It’s the time of year when everyone is putting out their lists of favorites. Usually these lists are bad for my book habit, and they are fun to peruse and see what people enjoyed. This year two of the books we’re using in the Training and Residency Programs were voted books of the year by Christianity Today: both Senkbeil and Earley have written books that I’ve already seen bear fruit in my own life and those of our students. I am thankful for their work (which means I can point to them here and leave them off the lists below! See what I did?)
As my own contribution to the list-making season, I’ve tried to share some things that I’ve enjoyed this year across a few categories, meaning few are brand new works—more so just new to me. Maybe you’ll find something new for yourself to interact with in 2020. Also, as part reflection, I’ve included a few thoughts that in another year might have been blog posts, and for now are sentences at best.
10 is a lot, and it turns out, sometimes 5 is too. Here are 5 (or 4) things in each category.
Reads I Really Enjoyed
- Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra by CS Lewis
I’ve often heard that people find this trilogy to be among their favorite of his work. These two books felt like I seeing a new side of an old friend, a secret talent that had long lay hidden away. His work, The Great Divorce, is among my favorite works I’ve ever read—and sections of these two books are now right there with it. Lewis has a way of describing ordinary things in ways that make one feel like they’re seeing it for the first time, and thus need to reinterpret previous experience. These were treats to read.
- Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith by Adam Neder
This little book is punchy, full of help, and a needed gut check for the learner and teacher. Since I teach multiple times a week now, there were many parts of this work that gave insight and corrective toward how to steward the classroom, and my own heart in the process. Last week I shared a few quotes from the work here.
- The Fabric of Theology by Richard Lints
This was certainly the densest and most helpful book I read this year in regards to understanding culture. Written in the early 90’s, Lints walks through the patchwork nature of the modern evangelical theological vision, and illustrates the need for comprehensive thinking regarding one’s own theological worldview which makes one wonder how he could read 2019 so well 25 years ago. This book explained postmodernity and its impact upon modern evangelicalism in a single chapter that is worth the cost of the book itself. For the 14 Residents that read it this fall, each found it eye-opening and helpful in understanding the last century of our faith, and the challenge ahead of us.
- How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
This book introduced me to Jacobs, and I immediately began to follow his work. I signed up for his newsletter, which I enjoy regularly, and try to keep up with his blog. Jacobs is a regular contributor to Mars Hill Audio, and I constantly learn new things from his work. This is a handbook for how to look at our current moment and resist the urge to fight on its terms. Pair this with The Coddling of the American Mind, and you’ve got quite the combo of thought.
- The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
I stayed up late in a quiet house last night to finish the last few chapters of this book. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve got a shelf of books in my office that all have the theme of sabbath / rest / hurry in their titles, and Comer seems to interact with most of them in this single work, meaning he weaves pieces of arguments together in a way that is readable, relatable, and helpful. This is a good book. It is the why, the what & the how, leaving you with practical steps to think through enacting what he’s talking about: living in the way of Jesus with a more present minded rhythm of life. This is the last full read of 2019 for me, and I am thankful for it.
Things I Will Re-Read
- Who God Says You Are – Klyne Snodgrass
I will read this book for the third time in January with our Residency Program. My D.Min supervisor first pointed it out while I was researching virtue formation. For a better part of two years I read the field on emotional health and identity formation. I carried four books out of that season, Snodgrass being among the top of the list. The final chapter is his plea to “become a real person.” For a media saturated, digital native age, I can think of fewer necessary calls than that of becoming who God says we are. Not our culture, not ourselves, not our experience, but our Maker. This is true humanity.
- An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
This book is a slow burn. It does some category-shifting for the performance addicted, and is a needed corrective to leadership that is based on task instead of people. Fadling has great things to say. I read this slowly the first time, and can tell that his lessons are born out of living the thing rather than merely talking of it.
- The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson by Stanley Hauerwas
I first heard of this book on a Mars Hill Audio interview with Ken Myers. The work is a collection of letters that Hauerwas wrote to his godson on the importance of different virtues. So a tenured professor writes to an 8 year old about the importance of constancy. Seventy years between them, and the reader walks away grateful for the reminder of the character we hoped for at 20, lamented at 30, and long for in the years ahead. This book gave language for virtues that I will use with my children, and myself.
- The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and The Wingfeather Saga (Peterson) – Here’s a short film of The Wingfeather Saga.
My father read the Hobbit to my sister and I when we were young. I’m doing the same for my children now, and my son is captivated by Smaug the Dragon. He’s four, and I wanted something to capture his imagination. He asked me not to make the Gollum voice any more when I read it, so I think we’re there. We’re big believers in reading out loud in our house, and it has been so pleasant to hear this story in the again. I figure we’ll start in on Middle Earth when it’s time. The LOTR trilogy were the first books I read after my masters, a kind of baptism back into fairy tales from the land of academia. It’s time again. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is being re-released this year in a new hardback edition, and we’ll be purchasing them for our library. I’ve listened to the series via audiobook twice through, and am thankful for an epic tale for a new generation that has much depth and beauty within. These are excellent reads.
Things I Want to Finish Reading:
- The Pastor in a Secular Age by Andrew Root
I must have picked up 8 books this year that began with a reference to Charles Taylor. He was in EVERYTHING. Root is charting the pastoral vocation through the ages, and so far it’s really intriguing, albeit a bit technical in places. I bought it in conjunction with building a lecture around post-modernity and secularism.
- Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang
At a recent conference, this book was mentioned by a friend as a go-to for pedagogical methods and how to move from lecture to active learning environments in specific, concrete ways. I scanned and found an exercise to practice for our closing lecture in the Training Program this fall and it led to fruitful discussion. I’m eager to read more.
- Invitation to a Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
This book keeps getting referenced and footnoted in a lot of my reading, and so I would like to read his complete picture of being conformed to the image of Christ. It’s a little like Taylor, meaning it’s always in the footnotes.
- The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life: Volume 1 of Pastoral Theology by Albert N. Martin
This series is the print version of a decades-old pastoral training course, one that used to be on cassettes for those looking to be mentored in what it meant to be an under-shepherd and overseer. Martin pastored a local congregation for 46 years, forming these thoughts through experience and then among those in the classroom. These are the kind of books that I love to sit with, the collected written fruit of a lifetime faithfulness and the call of the Scriptures to get wisdom.
Things I Learned a Bit More This Year:
- Communicating clearly with people takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and grace. Then there is the other person involved.
- I overcomplicate most things. Life is more simple than we make it. Love people, be honest, work hard. Take people seriously, yourself less so. Rest and play on repeat.
- In order to be good at anything, I’m convinced I need to do less, better. The lie of this age is that you can do increasingly more equally well.
- The Christian life is a fight to live in reality at every turn. This world offers us fantasy and distraction as a means to escape our inability to be still. The road out of fantasy is the way into true life.
- Mostly, I am praying these days that I would not confuse being well-read with well-lived. These are not the same thing.