Like last year’s list, I’ll keep this short and sweet with no attempt to rank my short list. I humbly submit that each of these books is worth your time. In some small way each of these authors changed how I think or live through their writing; this list is my small attempt at thanking them for their vocation and insight.
I’ve already mentioned this book a couple of times and Leadership Journal gave me the chance to review the book (not yet online) and interview author Paul Metzger. At the risk of over-recommending the book, let me say that Consuming Jesus may be one of the most important books for the American church this year. Metzger convincingly shows how consumerism has infected our theological practice and demonstrates its divisive affects on race and class unity. I’m convinced the church’s ability to demonstrate Christ-centered unity will have massive affects on our witness in the coming years. Consuming Jesus is on the short list of books that help diagnose our blind spots and point the way forward to reconciliation and unified mission.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
In early October I wondered if Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of her family’s year of local eating would make this year’s list of favorite books. Did it ever! I told a friend that if a book is judged on how much it impacts the reader’s life, than this is my book of the year. Kingsolver sneaks enough facts and history into her book about our nation’s eating habits to make this truly an educational read. I’d been aware of some of the ugly sides to the industrial and subsidized agriculture that allows Americans to eat the type and quantity of food we do. Kingsolver’s significant addition to this conversation is her winsome account of just how good eating localy can be. She also debunks the idea that local food is somehow elitist (it’s how everyone ate until quite recently!). The apple sauce, spaghetti sauce, and habanero hot sauce we canned this summer are the tasty result of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
From the books mentioned on this blog it should be clear that I read far more non-fiction than novels. But each year I manage to read a couple that come highly recommended. Marilynne Robinson’s novel was published in 2004 and won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is told through a series of letters from the aged John Ames to his very young son. Ames is a third generation pastor in Gilead, Iowa and his letters reflect the life of a man who has dedicated his life to those in his church. Robinson is marvelous at pulling moments of almost transcendent reflection from her main character as he recalls events from his life that he wants his young son to know after his father has died. Part of the appeal for me is the shared pastoral vocation, but Home is expansive and personal enough to connect with anyone interested in the legacy of relationships and the unexpected place of faith in the mundane.
Surprised by Hope
N. T. Wright’s most recent book is one I read early this year and am now rereading in preparation for a review in Cultural Enoucnters. Like Simply Christian, this is one of Wright’s more accessible books though it’s got plenty of thick spots that call for multiple readings. Wright does (at least) two significant things in Surprised by Hope. First, he demonstrates that the popular cultural (and all too often Christian) understanding of the afterlife is at odds with the Biblical understanding. Heaven is commonly understood to be the final destination for the Christian but Wright demonstrates that Heaven is just the temporary resting place for the faithful until God restores all things at which point the new earth becomes the Christian’s home. Second, Wright shows how this understanding of the afterlife impacts how we live now. Because our final destination is not a disembodied heaven but a physical new creation, our participation with God in his mission of restoration begins today.
Then the Whisper Put on Flesh
I’ve already posted two reflections (here and here) about Brian K Blount’s treatment of New Testament ethics from an African American perspective. The book makes this list for the way I look for themes of liberation in the New Testament that I likely would have missed in the past. This is the most academic book on the list and takes a bit of effort; effort that pays off as Blount methodically moves through the gospels, epistles, and Revelation. Without glossing over difficult passages, Then the Whisper Put on Flesh convincingly shows the priority of freedom for the oppressed in the New Testament. Perhaps the biggest take-away for me is how much I need to hear the biblical interpretation of those on the margins in order to develop a larger perspective of the themes contained in the New Testament.
How about you? What is the book (or books) that most impacted how you think and live this year?