Top Reads of 2019

Well, another year is (almost) over, which means another year of reading is (almost) in the books.

(See what I did there?… Okay, that was bad, I know…)

I do always love going back this time of year and reviewing what I read. And I’m always genuinely surprised. As the days and weeks of the year go by, I tend to feel a little guilty that I’m not reading more and lament that I don’t have more time to devote to this or that intellectual curiosity or literary pursuit. But I keep plugging away… and when all is said and done, it’s usually a pretty decent pile of reading.

Since I’m asked about this fairly often, I’ll take a minute to give you some idea of my reading habits. Because I take it that to be a pastor is to be a constant learner, I’ve organized my schedule to make that possible. I wake up early enough each morning that I can get an hour of reading in before I head into the hustle and bustle of the day. That reading is usually part devotional (my prayer and Scripture reading time are separate from this, fyi), and part theological. I try to enrich the soil of my mind and soul before I head out into the noise.

My workdays are usually pretty packed with meetings and office work and sermon prep, so I don’t do a ton of reading during the typical weekday. On nights where we aren’t hosting people or out to church events, I can usually sneak some in. And of course, on days off, I soak up all the time I can.

My reading habits are a little idiosyncratic, I suppose. I’m insatiably curious, and reading is an opportunity to let my curiosity run wild. I’m always reading theology and classic devotional literature, have developed a deep appreciation for history over the years, am just romantic enough to love good poetry, and am a sucker for a good novel. I don’t read a ton of self-improvement or cultural analysis type stuff, mostly because prevailing opinion seems to shift and change so much that some part of me feels the effort is futile. So I stick to what I like.

By the way, I think that right there is the best strategy for being a lifelong reader: read what interests you, and you’ll love reading; read what everyone tells you you should read, and you’ll probably hate reading.

With that said, the final tally was that I read 57 new books, re-read 11, and started but didn’t finish two. The two unfinished bother me, but the truth was that they were tactical retreats. I had other stuff I felt was more important to devote attention to, and plan on conquering them at some point in the future.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 favorites from the year (in no particular order), followed by the full list:

1) The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Eugene, and this was no different. Eugene everywhere helps pastors recover the integrity of their work, and this book, I think, is the key to understanding his whole pastoral corpus, how prayer and Sabbath and loving attentiveness ought to undergird all our ministry work. Invaluable reading. Pastoral Ministry 101.

2) Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale – Frederick BeuchnerWriters that help us recover the oddity and wonder and surprise of the gospel, IMO, are in short supply these days. We need folks who have lived deeply enough amid the mystery to help us see it with fresh eyes and hear it with fresh ears, so that our lives and ministries are not reduced to pragmatics or mechanics. Beuchner is one of those people for me, and this book was a pure delight.

3) Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Mary Oliver is a poet’s poet. Her care for words, her love for the created order, her ever-present sense of wonder at the ordinary… I’ve read a little of her poetry just about every day since I bought this book halfway through the year and found it to be incredibly nourishing.

4) Christ the Heart of Creation – Rowan WilliamsOkay, full disclosure here – I’m not quite done with this one, but expect to have it finished by next week. This was (is) perhaps the most demanding of the books I read this year, and – I think in direct proportion to its demanding nature –  I suspect the insights I gained from it will remain with me for the rest of my life – and I don’t say that lightly. It’s that important.

Since reading Bishop Robert Barron’s book The Priority of Christ more than a year ago, I’ve been captivated by the notion of God’s “non-competitive transcendence.” In point of fact, Barron’s book clarified and liberated a lot of my theological thinking – that because God is non-aliud (not-another-thing), his being and presence do not and cannot compete with ours; and friendship with him therefore does not and cannot destroy our humanity but rather dignifies, elevates, and perfects it.

Williams’ book explores that same theme vis a vis a survey of Christological debates down through the centuries and has helped me immensely. Christology, as Williams explains it – and of course, this is the claim of the New Testament – is the key to making sense not just of the being and identity of Jesus of Nazareth, but of the entire nature and destiny of the cosmos, of ours and the world’s future with God. Outrageously good.

5) Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow. I love a good biography, and this one was stellar. Chernow does a fantastic job painting a vivid and compelling portrait of Hamilton, setting his both extraordinary strengths and tragic flaws on brilliant display. Well-researched but reads like a novel. I found myself gripped by Hamilton’s resourcefulness, imagination, leadership qualities, and stamina, and was astounded – truly astounded – at how much modern life in America still owes itself to Hamilton’s singular political vision. It also made me lament the affair with Maria Reynolds that came to dog his reputation and political career for the rest of his life, and was (according to Chernow) one of the reasons why he never made a bid for the presidency. Chernow’s description of his final hours after his fateful duel with Aaron Burr brought me to tears. GREAT reading.

Well, there ya go. That’s the top five. Below is the full list.

Andrew

ANDREW’S 2019 READING LIST (NO SPECIFIC ORDER)

  1. Christ the Heart of Creation – Rowan Williams
  2. Arius: Heresy and Tradition – Rowan Williams
  3. Housekeeping: A Novel – Maryline Robinson
  4. The Voice of God in the Text of Scripture: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics
  5. Catechetical Discourse – Gregory of Nyssa
  6. Scripture in the Tradition – Henri de Lubac
  7. Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture – Ephraim Radner
  8. Communion with the Triune God – John Owen
  9. Works on the Spirit – St. Athanasius
  10. Poems – C. S. Lewis
  11. Descent Into Hell – Charles Williams
  12. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver
  13. That All Shall Be Saved – David Bentley Hart
  14. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie
  15. Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason – John Paul II
  16. The Givenness of Things: Essays – Marylinne Robinson
  17. Home: A Novel – Marylinne Robinson
  18. Virgil Wander: A Novel – Leif Enger
  19. Why I Wake Early: New Poems – Mary Oliver
  20. Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology – Lewis Ayers
  21. The Way of Perfection – St. Teresa of Avila
  22. Unspoken Sermons (vols 1, 2, and 3) – George MacDonald
  23. On the Holy Spirit – St. Basil the Great
  24. See the Strange: The Beauty of the Revelation – Brett Davis
  25. Rich Mullins: His Life and Legacy – James Bryan Smith
  26. The World as I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin – Rich Mullins
  27. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale – Frederick Beuchner
  28. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light – Mother Teresa
  29. Where There Is Love, There Is God – M. Teresa
  30. Mother Teresa (Revised and updated): An Authorized Biography – Kathryn Spink
  31. The Rule of Faith: A Guide – Everett Ferguson
  32. On the Apostolic Preaching – St. Irenaeus
  33. The Way to Nicaea V1 – John Behr
  34. I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta, A Secret Revealed – Paul Murray
  35. On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations – St. Gregory Nazianzus
  36. Beyond Our Selves – Catherine Marshall
  37. Remarkable: Living a Faith Worth Talking About – Brady Boyd
  38. Blessed, Broken, Given – Glenn Packiam
  39. Alexander Hamilton (Biography) – Ron Chernow
  40. Becoming Dallas Willard – Gary Moon
  41. The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson
  42. The Highly Sensitive Person – Elaine Aron
  43. Church Dogmatics Vol. 2 Book 2 – Karl Barth
  44. How to Pray: A Simple Guide – Pete Greig
  45. Abba’s Child – Brennan Manning
  46. Born to Wander – Michelle Van Loon
  47. Does God Really Like Me? – Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw
  48. Anam Cara – John O’Donohue
  49. The Invisible Embrace of Beauty – John O’Donohue
  50. White Picket Fences – Amy Julia Becker
  51. Given: The Forgotten Meaning and Practice of Blessing – Tina Boesch
  52. The Dearly Beloved: A Novel – Cara Wall
  53. The Jubilee – Poems by John Blase
  54. 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos – Jordan B. Peterson
  55. By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus – Derek Vreeland
  56. Grace/Truth 1.0 – Preston Sprinkle
  57. Grace/Truth 2.0 – Preston Sprinkle

REREAD

  1. Holy the Firm – Annie Dillard
  2. Lilith – George MacDonald
  3. Brendan – Frederick Beuchner
  4. Godric – Frederick Beuchner
  5. The Writing Life – Annie Dillard
  6. Consoling Thoughts on the Trials of an Interior Life – St. Francis de Sales
  7. Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – Jeanne Guyon
  8. The Interior Castle – St. Teresa of Avila
  9. The Mediation of Christ – T. F. Torrance
  10. Gilead – Marylinne Robinson
  11. The Diary of a Country Priest – George Bernanos

UNFINISHED

  1. Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) – Scott Manetsch
  2. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style – Benjamin Dreyer

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