Each December I use this space to reflect on books I’ve read during the year. I amped up my writing this year in starting a blog and becoming a panelist at Faith in Memphis (www.faithinmemphis.com). Since reading is foundational to writing, I’m particularly interested now in books that stimulate ideas to further ponder via writing.
The list below is neither ranked nor in order of reading. As always, I lost interest in some books along the way and they don’t make the list. Neither do technical books like Bible commentaries nor periodical readings. Some of these titles were recommended to me by you, and though I can’t always follow through on someone’s recommendation, I like receiving them from you as it indicates you’re reading.
• The Pastor by Eugene Peterson: I’ve read most of his books; his insights and perspectives have shaped and sharpened many of my ministry convictions through the years. While I do not share his ecumenical interests, I'd recommend his memoirs to any pastor.
• The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo: Our world, even amid unprecedented globalization, is largely “organized into instability.” Ramo is a secular author, but I found his advocacy for resilience in American foreign policy (he says we should rechristen Homeland Security to the “Department of Resilience”) applicable to the gospel: Evangelicals should see the gospel as a strategy of resilience more than resistance.
• Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre: The book is based on a series of lectures the author gave at Princeton Seminary. Words and their mediums—conversation, poetry, stories—all matter, and the misuse or abuse of each and all is culturally eroding.
• The Devil Reads Derrida by James K. A. Smith: An assortment of writings Smith has published through the years in various periodicals, subtitled, And Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts. I like essay-collection books usually. Do you think there could be any redemptive value in a movie like Little Miss Sunshine, or American Beauty? Smith thinks so and attempts to justify why in a couple of essays.
• In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick: This was my beach book in June, a historical narrative on the 1819 sinking of the whaler Essex. The ship was rammed to splinters by an angry sperm whale (Herman Melville based Moby-Dick on the tragedy). Since reading this book I don’t look at that whale on Vineyard Vines clothes as cute anymore!
• Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore: He utilizes Jesus' temptation narratives in Matthew and Luke to lay down some key contemporary insights on how the Tempter relentlessly works for our undoing. I was very impressed with Moore’s prose.
• Heresy by Alister McGrath: Heresies often originate from well-meaning types who are trying to advance the church or recover something they believe the church has lost. But they go too far. McGrath takes the reader on a fascinating tour of what constitutes "too far" in theology.
• A Positive Life by Shane Stanford: The autobiography of the new pastor at Christ Church, who lives with HIV. God has turned the mourning into dancing for Shane and his family.
• Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson: The author is a modern-day Chesterton, and his book is a playground of peculiar insights. Readers in their twenties will especially “get” Wilson. I loved the book.
• Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan: I needed this book. Buchanan’s writing is always rich and thoughtful, and in this book he used the four seasons of the year to plot spiritual growth, experience, and work over a lifetime.
• Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph Wood: The fiction of this Georgia Catholic always contained a deeper commentary on American culture, especially the Protestant South. My favorite O'Connor quote, which I utilize in preaching: “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”
• The Next Story by Tim Challies: A first book from this Canadian blogger extraordinaire, Challies offers his theological reflections on technology’s potentials and pitfalls.
• The Writing Life by Annie Dillard: A slim book on how writing happens that probably only appeals to writers.
• Humilitas by John Dickson: This Australian pastor and historian looks at humility. The premise of this book is that the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility, and that humility is using power in service to others. The book is chockfull of interesting anecdotal examples that bear this out. It’s subtitled A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership.
• Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne: Practical counsel for how to keep church leaders on the same page. I’ve probably never read a book with so many endorsements on the first few pages, including the author’s mother! But such a helpful book to read I shared it with our staff.As the year concludes, I’m finally into David McCullough’s John Adams and Mike Mason’s Champagne for the Soul, a book written to natural melancholies (like John Adams, and me) about joy. Reading is joy, as is serving a church that encourages me to it. Have as joyous a Christmas as you can!