Friends and readers, I am devoting the rest of this month to rest and refreshment with my family. I’ve scheduled blog posts and tweets. Most of the posts have been carefully selected from the archives, posts I hope still have something of value today.
Before I unplug, I want to offer a few reading recommendations. If you’re looking to pack some books into your beach bag or load up your Kindle for some summer reading, here are some titles to consider. (See last year’s list for more options.) All of these are excellent, and you won’t be disappointed.
Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” With that line, Julian Barnes launches a book of reflections on life, religion, and morality as the shadow of death slowly closes in. The title sums up the heart of the work. In one sense, the atheist has nothing to be frightened of, since death is merely the ceasing of existence. But in another sense, the atheist has nothing to be frightened of. The extinguishing of life forever and joining eternal nothingness is a somewhat frightening prospect, although not enough to scare Barnes into religious fairytales.
Honest about his wrestlings, committed to his naturalism, yet envious of the hope he sees in his believing friends, Barnes reflects on death in a way that is most compelling.
In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch faked a conversion experience, got baptized, and spent two years at Thomas Road Baptist Church. She kept a detailed journal of her experience, which she has now turned into a book that chronicles her journey into evangelical America.
See my full review here and my interview with Gina here.
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides.
If you’re looking to cool off this summer, then look no further than this book. This is the story of explorer, George Washington De Long’s attempt to navigate through a wall of ice in hopes of discovering the open polar sea at the top of the world. The journey is told with attention to the details left by surviving crew members, the diaries of De Long, and the scientific theories at their disposal at the time. ”Grand” and “terrible” are great adjectives for this voyage. Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity - by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
History, politics, biography, and intrigue. They all come together to tell the story of how presidents of the United States have been influenced by their ongoing relationships with their predecessors.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Every now and then I read a book that I believe should be on every Christian thinker’s bookshelf. Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is one such book. It is not an exaggeration to say that The Brothers Karamazov might possibly be one of the greatest novels of all time. Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation is, undoubtedly, the easiest to read in English.
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
I recently reread the Screwtape Letters a third time, and I found the experience is still fresh. The parts I remembered from my previous reading weren’t the parts that stood out to me this time around. Maybe it’s because I’m the one who has changed over time, not Screwtape. Returning to this book years later is like returning as a different person, with different tastes and different temptations, so that the spiritual insights here, delivered through devishly clever fiction, strike me in different places. Here is a passage that stood out: The Safest Road to Hell.
JUSTICE AND RACE RELATIONS
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
What these sociologists discovered was a genuine desire among evangelicals to end racial division and inequality, but also a theological worldview that hinders our ability to perceive systemic injustice, or offer solutions that go beyond cross-cultural friendships. This book dates back to 2001, but the insights are still valid and directly related to today’s debates. If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about regarding race relations in the U.S. and the church today, I’d recommend this book for a sociological analysis and The Warmth of Other Suns for an empathetic look at the African-American migration during the Jim Crow era.
Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation
Anthony Bradley has brought together a group of pastors, leaders, and scholars to talk about the state of black families, the role of hip-hop, the Cosby/Poussaint discussion, and the effects of the prosperity gospel.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin
A landmark work of missiology that continues to influence the task of evangelism, world mission, and Christianity’s role in society. Newbigin was a missionary to India who, upon arriving back in the UK, recognized the need for Christians in England to see their own context as a mission field.
The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide by Gerald McDermott
From Origen to Von Balthasar, McDermott takes us on a journey through time, showing us the passion that drives each theologian, as well as the particular insights they are remembered for. There’s just enough biography here to get a good glimpse of the man, and just enough summary to give you a good overview of the theology. You might quibble with a couple of his choices (Newman over Irenaeus? No Cappadocians?), but you’ll still gain a good overview of the theologians he profiles. See my full review here and my interview with Gerald here.
I’ve offered 10 selections here. What do you recommend I take with me to the beach this year? What would you add to this list? If you’ve got some suggestions, leave them for me and other readers in the comments.