Thursday, December 19, 2013

My ten favorite books of the year...

A lot of wonderful books were published in 2013. These would make great last minute stocking stuffers, or first purchases with the gift cards you receive in your stockings next week.

1. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman

This is my favorite book of 2013. It is the book I give away to people struggling with faith, struggling with illness, struggling with grief. It is medicine for the soul, and prose from the gods.

2. Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography by Richard Rodriguez

Another writer whose prose is impeccable, and who snaps our attention back to the way faith is woven implicitly into the beauty of our lives. This happens to be my other go-to recommendation for those on the edges of faith. This book sneaks up on you and wins you over. 

3. Being Promised: Theology, Gift, and Practice by Gregory Walter

This book brings gift, phenomenology, and promise into conversation in ways that will forever transform how theologians talk about God's promised future. For a wonderful review, see The Cresset

4. Wide Welcome: How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church
by Jessicah Krey Duckworth

Churches that welcome newcomers often run into tensions between new incoming members and the existing membership. Duckworth offers an incredibly rich description of how congregations can address this challenge, which she sees as an opportunity for actually forming communities around the cross. Her exploration of the phenomenon of ongoing peripheral participation is particularly fascinating.

5. Open Mind, Faithful Heart by Pope Francis

I think we have seen a human being among human beings come into his own this year. I read his most recent apostolic exhortation the last two weeks, and fell in love with his way of thinking and writing as much as I am in love with his concrete actions as pope.

6. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart may be the smartest theologian writing in English on the planet. He synthesizes vast amounts of history, theology, and philosophy, but he has, in his most recent books, focused on being lucid, clear, and compelling. It is almost impossible to summarize this book other than to say almost everyone acts like they know what they are talking about when the talk about God, but Hart takes a stab at actually talking about God faithfully and accurately, and in conversation with a wide variety of faith traditions.

7. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I've reviewed this book in detail elsewhere, but the best recommendation I can give it is that a large group from my church all voluntarily organized and are currently conducting a chapter by chapter discussion of it at church. 

8. Arguing with God: A Theological Anthropology of the Psalms by Bernd Janowski

The psalms are the prayerbook of the church, and in many ways contain the whole of the scriptures in miniature. However, they're also often misunderstood because we overlook how they indicate who we are as praying humans before God. This is my read for most of the spring while we study the psalms in our mid-week bible study group.

9. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

We end up discussing this topic so often, I feel, but it is a conversation that continues to matter. This is now my go-to book to hand out to anyone with questions. Justin handles the conversation gently and kindly, leading in the direction of justice and love.

10. A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor

O'Connor's prayer journal, written while a student at the Writer's Workshop in Iowa City, is brief but powerful. This book includes a facsimile of the journal itself, so after reading the text first in print, you can read it in her own hand. Makes a wonderful morning devotional. Read one a day until finished.

Runner's up

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible by Timothy Michael Law. Mind = blown.

Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death. Two classics translated afresh. I have been on a Kierkegaard binge all year.

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee. No other novelist so consistently haunts me. This novel does it again.

Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is always worth reading, and this collection, though consistent in general with the Hauerwasian project, pushes in some new directions.

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