May you find something that sings to you:
The Most Highly Recommended Books of 2019:
He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art, 2018, Christian Wiman: a poet who teaches religion and literature at Yale. It is a masterpiece.
“What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting? And how do we make that hunger productive and vital rather than corrosive and destructive? These are the questions that animate Christian Wiman as he explores the relationships between art and faith, death and fame, heaven and oblivion. Above all, He Held Radical Light is a love letter to poetry, filled with moving, surprising, and sometimes funny encounters with the poets Wiman has known… [it] is as urgent and intense as it is lively and entertaining…” (Goodreads review).
Well… what other kind of book could I enjoy? This was sent to me anonymously (I found out who later), and it was a shock of beauty. Thank you to my friend who sent it. Be prepared to read and re-read every well-crafted page… and have a dictionary nearby.
Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, 1999, John O’Donohue. The author is best known for his book “Anam Cara” (Soul Friend). In this book, he writes prolifically on the nature of belonging.
This year I quoted him extensively, and though I don’t agree with everything he writes, I appreciate his poetic sensibilities.
“No one was created for isolation”, he writes, even though “it seems that we are in the midst of huge crisis of belonging.”
Well worth the read.
“The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ“, 2005, A. W. Tozer. This is a compilation of essays by A.W. Tozer, and can be read as a devotional. In these essays he “seeks to clarify just what the cross of Christ signifies, and what our response to it should be. First and foremost it is a radical thing, the most revolutionary thing to appear among men. The cross of Jesus Christ means death, to all who honestly come to it, death to the self-life that they have been living, and new life in and through Jesus Christ.” At under 150 pages, it is an easy read.
The Gifts I never Knew I Had: Reflections on Ordinary Treasures, 2019, Tanya Lyons. Here are the seeds of vulnerability reaching maturity. As she confesses in her introduction, “When you’re afraid of not having enough, it’s impossible to be generous.”
Lyons is now able to be generous with her life lessons and I appreciate her understanding that “some of the most valuable gifts I have received are the ones which require something from me.” These are her reflections on the ordinary – the unspectacular, the everyday treasures of our lives not to be missed. A wonderful little book I highly recommend.
Other Fine Books Read in 2019:
“The Sparrow“, 1996, and its sequel – “Children of God“, 1998, Mary Doria Russell. I realized I had somehow missed listing The Sparrow in my 2018 book list, and make amends by including it here along with her follow up novel. The Sparrow won numerous awards for this first time novelist. Both novels explore the intersection of science, faith, and what it means to be human.
The story starts off in 2019, when “humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life… the Society of Jesus quietly organizes a scientific expedition of its own.” Yes, fantastical when summarized in a sentence, but both novels are well written.
Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation, 2017, Robert J. Morgan, resonates with something I encourage when I mentor men in the spiritual journey. If at all possible, I encourage learning to meditate on scripture as a way of renewing our minds and feeding our prayer lives. Morgan defines biblical meditation as “thinking Scripture – not just reading Scripture or studying Scripture or even thinking about Scripture – but thinking Scripture, contemplating, visualizing, and personifying the precious truths God has given us
It is an easy read at 125 pages along with a 75 page Meditation Guide. It is designed as a gift devotional book.
Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, 2012, Michael Reeves. This was voted Best Books for Preachers in 2012. “Why is God love? Because God is a Trinity. Why can we be saved? Because God is a Trinity. How are we able to live the Christian life? Through the Trinity… [this is an] introduction to the Christian life that is from start to finish rooted in our triune God – Father, Son and Spirit. Not only do we understand the person and work of Christ through the Trinity, but also prayer, the church and every aspect of our faith.” At 130 pages, this is a very accessible read.
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old, 2018, Parker J. Palmer. “We grow old and die in the same way we’ve lived our lives. That’s why this book is not about growing old gracefully… Every day, I get closer to the brink of everything. We’re all headed that way, of course, even when we’re young, though most of us are too busy with Important Matters to ponder our mortality.” This is Palmer looking over the panorama of his life with many mini-reflections – for as Kurt Vonnegut put it, “out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.”
When God’s Ways Make No Sense, 2018, Dr. Larry Crabb. Long time Christian Psychologist writes from a life time of experience with the problem of pain and confusion of life. This book was given to me as a gift from a friend who had just lost his wife to cancer; he invited me to read this with him from a distance: a tender path of grieving. One commentator writes: “Rather than pushing back against adversity, you are invited to look closer at what God is doing in your life when it feels like He is far from you.” I suspect the spiritual journey is the path of walking through confusions.
Books on LGBTQ Issues:
This year I have been reading even more on LGBTQ issues. I write to this topic in my “Radical Gospel” series (started May 29). But if you’ve been following me for any length, you will know that I regularly write to issues of “Sexuality” and “Trans-Identity“.
Here is an extensive reading list, some of which were informed by a good friend of mine; I have not read all of these yet:
On the technical side – dealing in detail with the Biblical texts and word studies:
- “Sexuality in the New Testament” by William Loader. One chapter in this book deals with various interpretations (modern and revisionist) of the key texts. It’s a careful, unbiased study, and, while Loader himself is sympathetic toward homosexual relationships, and would likely want the church to be quite inclusive, he does not see the Scriptures as providing support for those relationships.
- “Unchanging Witness” by Fortson & Grams is a lengthy book length historical study of the texts.
- One that N.T. Wright suggests as the “best brief treatment of the subject” is a chapter in Richard Hays’ “The Moral Vision of the New Testament”.
Less technical, but also dealing with the relevant Scriptures:
- “Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church” edited by Preston Sprinkle. Contributors include William Loader noted above, and Wesley Hill noted below.
- “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age” by Jonathan Grant. I listed this in my “Books of 2018“.
- “What Does the Bible Teach about Homosexuality” Kevin DeYoung.
- “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines – This is likely the best, and most read, popular treatment of the “revisionist” arguments by an influential guy who supports gay marriage and sees no Scriptural barriers in place.
- There is a small book written in direct response to Matthew Vines entitled “God and the Gay Christian: A Response”.
Some books written by same-sex attracted men (mostly pastors) who view celibacy as a legitimate option:
- “The Plausibility Problem” or “Same Sex Attraction and the Church” by Ed Shaw – depending on whether it’s the U.K. or North American edition.
- “Washed and Waiting” and “Spiritual Friendship” by Wesley Hill.
- “When Homosexuality Hits Home” by Joe Dallas.
Here are some other books of interest:
- “Respectful LGBT Conversations” by John Wood.
- “Homosexuality and the Christian” by Mark Yarhouse.
- “Genius born of Anguish: The life and legacy of Henri Nouwen“, by Michael Higgins, Kevin Burn. A thoughtful mini-biography of Nouwen who struggled with his SSA and an integrated spiritual walk all his life (reviewed in my book list of 2014).
- “Space at the Table” by the father/son team of Brad and Drew Harper. It tells the very personal journey of a father and son who love each other very much. The father is a pastor/theology professor, and his son emerges at 12 years old as same-sex attracted. The father retains a historical Scriptural view of homosexuality. The son goes through some very difficult years of counseling etc., and emerges as an atheist, embracing his same-sex identity and lifestyle. The strength of this book, though, is their honest attempt to retain relationship and love one another despite different world views. It very much humanizes the discussion, and is a potent and powerful read.
The need for Discerning Reading
May you exercise discernment in your reading, and may your discernment resonate “with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness.” (I Timothy 6:3)
I welcome Informed and Respectful Discussion
If you are vague on what this means, may I point you to: “Before Commenting on a Controversial Topic“.