Well, well. Here we are at the end of another year, and one of the things I love to do this time of year is look back over what I’ve read, trying to take stock of what has had the biggest influence on my mind over the past 12 months.
Turns out, 2018 was something of a “banner” reading year for me. 49 new books and 22 re-reads.
Okay, okay. I get it. That’s a lot. Even for me. Two things on that:
- I do think that since “words” are a primary part of the pastoral vocation, all pastors should be ahead of the curve in terms of the quantity that they read each year. We are always students.
- I was more disciplined this year with my reading than ever. I tried to wake up more consistently early, and give myself over to a decent chunk of reading before heading into the office, or wherever. And then, of course, evenings and weekends and whenever else I could fit a book in…
It turns out that if you’re disciplined, you can accomplish a lot.
You’ll notice from the list that while my reading was certainly weighted to the theological, it also did include other genres: history, devotional, personal growth, fiction, biography. In fact, some of my favorite books (which you’ll see in my top 10) were not explicitly theological.
I do think it is critical for pastors to read outside of their preferred “streams.” For my part, I am always massively enriched by my engagement with good fiction, biography, history, etc. My thought, language, and imagination are always stretched.
Without further ado, my top 10 reads (with the full list underneath) – in no particular order:
(Also, I am aware that some of these are multi-volume. Which means I’m smuggling in a few more than 10. But hey, I’m writing the rules here, so… 😉 )
The Patient Ferment of the Early Church – Alan Kreider. One of the finest presentations of the practice of the early believers that I’ve ever read. Kreider’s contention – well argued – was that it was the faithful “habitus” of the early believers that made Christianity the potent influence that it was in the Roman world during the first four centuries.
Destroyer of the gods – Larry Hurtado. In a similar vein, Hurtado sets out to show why it is Christians in the first few centuries suffered what appears to be disproportionate persecution at the hands first of the Jewish establishment and then, later, the Romans. (*Spoiler alert: the worship of Jesus was seen to be threatening. Imagine that!)
The Priority of Christ – Bishop Robert Barron. Truly one of the best books I’ve ever read. Barron, a Roman Catholic, is the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and heads up a great deal of the RCC’s focus on evangelism, especially to the increasingly post-Christian West. In PoC, Barron argues that one of the ways Christianity will regain its potency is by refusing to surrender philosophical high ground to secularism. Jesus, the “Word” of God, is always the high ground – and when we present Christ and live Christ compellingly, the Spirit will draw people to the worship of God. Brilliant stuff.
Church Dogmatics (vols. II/1 and IV/1) – Karl Barth. If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve been geeking out over Barth for the last year. I don’t even know how to summarize what I’ve learned reading him… except perhaps just to say that Barth teaches us how to process all of reality through the name, “Jesus.” I’m not going to say that this is essential reading. But I’ve been so helped by it.
New Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton. I’m going to be honest here. My impression of Merton before I started reading him (like many) was that he was a closet Buddhist. Whatever his appreciation and engagement with other religions may have been, New Seeds puts the stereotype to rest. Merton thinks that all of reality is shaped by the Triune God, that the Word made flesh is our way to God, and that the soul’s journey into God is one of dying to sin and selfishness so that it may rise in full-hearted, utterly abandoned, agape-shaped obedience. This book of meditations on learning to attend to the reality of God in prayer and ever-increasing self-surrender was cool water to my soul this year.
Moving to the slightly less theological here…
The Critical Journey – Hagburg and Geulich. At the behest of a mentor, I read this one seeking some clarity on the present season of my life. Leaving our church in Denver two years ago has proved to be, on so many levels, a “burning bush” kind of experience, for which I desperately needed some language to make sense of. This book gave it to me. It helped me understand in greater depth what that vocational “departure” meant for me on a spiritual level. So grateful for its wisdom.
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson. As warm-hearted, deep, and thoughtful a work of fiction as you will read. A book about fathers and sons and the challenge of wholeness. Read it.
Harry Potter (7 vols.) – J. K. Rowling. I realize I’m late to the party here, friends. Like years and years and years late. My boys started reading these books a couple years ago, and – always looking for ways to share experiences with my sons – I decided to start reading them too. Face-paced, well-written, brilliantly conceived plot that touches all the great human themes: friendship, loyalty, wisdom, good and evil, etc etc. I could go on and on. Loved every second of them.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill (vols. 1, 2, and 3) – William Manchester and Paul Reid. I’ve long been fascinated by WWII and admired the figure of Winston Churchill and the role he played in that war. This summer I decided to take the plunge and read these bad boys. Good grief. Meticulously researched but (this is true even of the last volume, begun by Manchester but finished by Reid) reads in a great many places like a good novel. The history presented is stunning in both its scope and depth. My favorite parts, honestly, were the frequent moments when the authors would pull back from the action to present character sketches of Churchill as he grows and develops. Top-shelf biography here, folks.
The Coddling of the American Mind – Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. I bought this one on a social media recommendation, and absolutely loved it. Lukianoff and Haidt argue that there are three “bad ideas” that are toxifying and polarizing our society and setting the current generation of young people up for massive failure. So helpful in diagnosing our current cultural situation.
There are my “top 10”, such as they are ;). Below is the full list. Do always feel free to reach out if you need a good book recommendation (or have one!).
NEW BOOKS – 49
- The Patient Ferment of the Early Church – Kreider
- The Origins of Christian Morality – Meeks
- Destroyer of the Gods – Hurtado
- Why Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? – Hurtado
- The Priority of Christ – Barron
- Vibrant Paradoxes (in process) – Barron
- Church Dogmatics – vols II/1 and IV/1 – Barth
- On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ – Maximus
- On the Unity of Christ – Cyril of Alexandria
- Can These Bones Live? (Theology in Outline) – Jenson
- Jesus–God and Man – Pannenberg
- The Crucifixion – Rutledge
- Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ – Rutledge
- Being Disciples – Williams
- Being Christian – Williams
- Being Human – Williams
- The Household of God – Newbigin
- The End is Music – Green
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree – Cone
- On the Human Condition – St. Basil the Great
- Deus Caritas Est – Benedict XVI
- Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition (in process) – Carter
- Thoughts in Solitude – Merton
- The Interior Castle – Teresa of Avila
- Consoling Thoughts on the Trials of an Interior Life – Francis de Sales
- New Seeds of Contemplation – Merton
- The Wisdom of the Desert – Merton
- The Critical Journey – Hagburg and Geulich
- The Road Back to You – Cron and Stabille
- The Elements of Style – Strunk and White
- On Writing Well – Zinnser
- Godric – Beuchner
- Brennan – Beuchner
- Peace Like a River – Enger
- Gilead – Robinson
- A Wrinkle in Time – L’Engle
- Harry Potter (7 vols) – Rowling
- The Last Lion (vols 1, 2, and 3) – Manchester and Reid
- What Are We Doing Here? – Robinson
- The Coddling of the American Mind – Lukianoff and Haidt
REREADS – 22
- St. Francis of Assisi – Chesterton
- A Coming Christ in Advent – Brown
- Sacramentum Caritatis – Benedict XVI
- On the Incarnation – Athanasius
- Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – Guyon
- The Sayings of the Desert Fathers – Ward
- The Practice of the Presence of God – Br. Lawrence
- The Imitation of Christ – Kempis
- The Chronicles of Narnia (7 vols.) – Lewis
- The Space Trilogy (3 vols.) – Lewis
- The Great Divorce – Lewis
- The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkien
- At the Back of the North Wind – MacDonald
- Lilith – MacDonald