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    Entries in sociology (2)

    Friday
    Jul062012

    75 Books That Have Propelled Me Forward

    Dear Sarah, Lindsey, and Countless Friends:

    As I have cultivated a life of reading, I have learned a few lessons. For now, I will expound upon three. Then, you will find a list of 75 books that have helped me on my journey chasing after Jesus.

    First, what C. S. Lewis wrote concerning the reading of old books is true, in that the ancient texts show us the biases and shortsightedness of our own age, as well as underscore where we have found solid footing. Don't read the prominent titles in the Christian Living section of the bookstores; dig deeper. Dare yourself to read Calvin and Wesley and Luther, and beyond them Augustine and Athanasius, the Didache and the Church Fathers.

    Secondly, it is wise to keep a notebook handy when you read, and mark a page "to explore later", wherein you can record all the titles to which great authors make passing references, or those works buried within the footnotes that scream your name and ask for you to chase. I have become accustomed to following the breadcrumbs, and while on occasion I've found the trail fade and have turned back, more often I have found the morsels more satisfying the further down the path I'm led.

    This second bit of advice led me to works like Watership Down and Saint Maybe, books I read because they were referenced within theological essays. It also led me to Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a play I never explored in high school, after it was referenced in a compelling way within the context of a sermon. Books seem to work their way in to my life, and I am always searching for great titles. Bibliographies have become great friends, and as time has passed, more and more names I find there are familiar.

    Thirdly, I would recommend aligning yourself with others who read great books, preferably those who you may see from time to time, so that the great ideas can enter in to conversation, and the truths of any book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, can be wrestled with in community. As much as I love the realm of ideas, I have never lost sight of the reality that it is the life that counts. A great scholar is not necessarily a great saint. Let what you learn transform your life, with love of God and neighbor being your highest aspiration. 

    These lessons are not exhaustive; more could be said. But they make for an adequate beginning. The life of study, I believe, is necessary for every Christian. Scripture is our foundation, but the Great Tradition also serves to build us up, as other Christians throughout history have sought to know and serve Jesus faithfully, and have left behind wisdom for us to explore and apply and take back to Scripture as we prayerfully discern what aligns and what stands askew. Learning is a constant wrestling with God; we are all like Jacob.

    Since you asked me about the "great books" I have read, I have listed Christian books and others that are not explicitly so, but have taught me lessons or given me some insight in to our world. I'd rather not remain in the Christian ghetto. Like other evangelicals, I have attempted to maintain an "engaged orthodoxy", pursuing sound doctrine and a greater understanding of the truths of the faith, all while remaining cognizant of the world we live in.

    Finally, if this list is too overwhelming, you may want to begin by browsing my recommendations for "Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth." You may also want to consult Renovare's 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, some of which are available for download, for free.

    Blessings as you chase after Jesus. Hopefully some of these books will help you on the way. And of course, if you ever wish to discuss any of these titles, you know where to find me.

    In Christ,

    BAS

    The Five Most Important Books I Have Read Apart from Holy Scripture

    1. Thomas A’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Dover Thrift Editions)
    2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
    3. Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic
    4. John Wesley, John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.'
    5. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

    Theological and Philosophical Works That Have Shaped Me 

    1. The Desert Fathers, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics)
    2. William Abraham, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism
    3. William Abraham, The Logic of Evangelism
    4. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford World's Classics)
    5. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
    6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
    7. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
    8. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    9. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
    10. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
    11. C. S. Lewis, Miracles
    12. Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition
    13. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
    14. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd Edition (7 Volumes) 
    15. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

    Historical and Sociological Works that Have Been Invaluable 

    1. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
    2. Alister McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution--A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
    3. Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
    4. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) [Vol. 2-5, also.]
    5. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ....

    Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth

    1. The Rule of Saint Benedict
    2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
    3. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
    4. Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
    5. Reuben Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living
    6. Joshua Choonmin Kang, Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word
    7. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
    8. Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
    9. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
    10. Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology [Vol. 1 in his Spiritual Theology Series, five volumes total.]
    11. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    12. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    13. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    14. Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Updated and Expanded: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
    15. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
    16. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
    17. N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (with DVD)
    18. N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
    19. N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
    20. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

    Contemporary Works That I Have Enjoyed

    1. Jon Acuff, Stuff Christians Like
    2. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
    3. Tom Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
    4. Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
    5. Ian Morgan Cron, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts
    6. Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
    7. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
    8. Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
    9. Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
    10. Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
    11. Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God
    12. Timothy J. Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
    13. Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
    14. Timothy J. Keller, King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
    15. Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith
    16. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
    17. John Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development
    18. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
    19. Avi Steinberg, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
    20. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

    Provocative Fiction and Short Stories

    1. David James Duncan, The Brothers K
    2. C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia Box Set
    3. Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
    4. Charles Porter, True Grit
    5. J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

    Books on Creativity and the Work I Do

    1. Jon Acuff, Quitter
    2. Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
    3. Stephen King, On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft
    4. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    5. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    Wednesday
    Aug112010

    Before Spouting Off at the Mouth, Check Your Facts

    From Carol Browne on Flickr!It's no surprise that many perceive that the church in America has an "image problem."  But are the prognosticators of negativity accurate, or is there a methodological bias that tends toward pessimistic reportage?  The book that comes to my mind first and foremost is unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters, whose conclusion that the church is regarded among younger generations as "too political," "anti-homosexual," "judgmental," and more  made a few waves in my neck of the woods.  That book inspired the pastor of my church, Adam Hamilton, to preach a sermon series entitled, "When Christians Get it Wrong," which has now been compiled and refined as a book, and was released a couple of weeks ago.  My social network has been aflame with reports of young Methodist leaders who have picked up this book, and plan to tease out its contents from their own pulpits.  I'm all for addressing what ails Christians, but before moving forward with how one presents "the facts," I'd recommend doing additional research, and raising some critical questions.

     After reading unChristian, I have to admit I was highly critical.  I questioned the results.  I wondered from whence these negative opinions of Christianity derived, and if these impressions, as they were described, originated from lived experience or from accepted cultural narratives concerning "religious" people.  I wondered if any approach to the ails of Christianity that casts itself in the terms of an "image problem" could ever reach the root of the problem, and if presenting "facts" in a way that inspires fear and anxiety could ever lead the people of God to a place of deepening love and a desire to serve with purity of heart.  And, among friends, I made a strong argument that if such problems are indeed present, the solutions must go beyond "being nice" or "volunteering."  These are matters of the heart, and the only cure for a heart that is sick is, according to traditional Christian doctrine and conviction, the gospel.

    For those that plan to move forward and paint a gloomy picture of the present and future of Christianity, I'd recommend reading Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media.  You may not agree with Dr. Wright's argument, but at the very least you'll be provided with additional information concerning how to evaluate statistical data.  You'll be given questions that might be applicable to how you frame issues.  And you might find a little wisdom on how we should approach our task of building up the church.

    As is true of any age, Christianity has its problems.  Yet we struggle on.  We attempt to be faithful.  We fall short.  And then we remember the practice of repentance, and our great doctrine of grace, and the idea that God is providentially at work despite our best efforts to derail his work to renew all creation.  I'm not completely dismissive of the idea that Christians do, at times, exhibit poor character, and that we should take stock of who we are and are becoming.  But I am firmly asserting that we should be cautious (or wise) when doing so, undertaking proper care of our language when we assess our present condition.  When we do speak, it should be in accordance with the truth.

    If you're a preacher, the worst thing you can do is lie to me. So before you open your mouth, check your facts.