At Karis, we are pursuing several identities. Among them, we want to be learners. We must be teachable, lest our faith shrivel up. The church should never stop growing in knowledge of the God who created it, knowledge of the world he is redeeming and insight into how, as gospel people, we should live in light of those realities. We are a Word-formed and -forged people. We live in a world God spoke into existence. We were saved through hearing the Word. And, now, our hearts and minds are renewed as we focus our attention and affection on Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.
Primarily, we learn by devoting ourselves to study of the Bible. We also learn from one another in community through God’s grace at work in the words of our brothers and sisters.
But, we also learn through the creative gifts God has given fellow believers, as they write works of theology. We may – and often do – learn about what is wrong with our world, and catch glimpses of how it can be made right, through the common grace bestowed upon authors who have never identified themselves with Christ.
That said, I want to share the most significant books I read in 2015 (broken down into categories I will likely never use again). I cannot commend every idea or phrase in these books, so read exercising God-given discretion and wisdom.
The book that will be most helpful to me 10-20 years from now: “The End of Our Exploring” by Matthew Lee Anderson. Not all questions are created equal. As Christians, it is healthy to explore our doubts and ask questions of Scripture and each other. But, as Anderson posits, we can question in a way that is distracting at best, destructive at worse. He points to a better means of asking, one that actually addresses our questions and builds up our faith. Anyone who wants to minister to skeptics or simply survive in the church – so, all of us – would do well to heed Anderson’s words.
The book whose title best describes the Christian life: “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” by Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s writing has refreshed me; in fact, more than anyone but the Biblical authors, his writing broke through my hardness of heart in a spiritually difficult year. This book is like a cool cup of water to the Christian whose body feels like it has run 24 miles of a marathon, but just passed mile marker five.
The book I didn’t know I needed until I needed it: “Welcome to Braggsville” by T. Geronimo Johnson. This novel is equal parts sobering indictment of our racial sins and stinging satire about the nature of academia and performance art. At the center of the book is an act of protest by a well-meaning, ill-fated group of college students. I read this several months before protests over race crescendoed at Mizzou. While the causes and conclusions of this fiction are far different than in our real life, the timing was eerie, perhaps even providential.
The books that pierced my soul most graciously: “Wheeling Motel,” “F” and “God’s Silence” by Franz Wright. I knew nothing about the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet until his death this spring. Picking up his work, I found a kindred spirit. As best as I can tell from his writing, Wright was a Christian, but his experience of God was twisted and turned upside down by mental illness and drug addiction. In a year where I experienced depression and anxiety and struggled with sins done against me, Wright reminded me that weak faith is sufficient faith if it finds a worthy object.
Biggest little book: “The Apostle’s Creed for Today” by Justo Gonzalez. This work is just more than 90 pages, but it displays in Technicolor that the Apostle’s Creed is not a dusty document resigned to the church’s past. It explores, helpfully and winsomely, what the Creed meant to the church of its time and what it should mean to us today.
Biggest book for little hearts: “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally-Lloyd Jones. Singles and young couples at Karis probably think parents are making up the importance of this children’s bible. As a new dad, I can say few books present the gospel more simply and sweetly for young and old.
Books we should read as we prepare to engage racial divides: “Divided by Faith” by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith and “Disunity in Christ” by Christena Cleveland. Coming from social scientists – as well as people of faith – these books explore the deep racial fissures within the church: Emerson and Smith as religious sociologists, Cleveland as a psychologist. The former portrays a dire picture that goes back centuries; the latter encourages us to reject our natural tendencies in Jesus’ name and settle for nothing less than supernatural unity.
Books that spoke to my artistic side: As a writer and arts journalist, I am always looking for texts to help me think Christianly about the arts. This year, I read several helpful ones: “Art Needs No Justification” by Hans Rookmaaker, “Echoes of Eden” by Jerram Barrs, “Refractions” by Makoto Fujimura, “Culture Matters” by T.M. Moore and “Art for God’s Sake” by Philip Ryken.
Miscellaneous books that entertained and/or changed me in some way: “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis, “Let Justice Roll Down” by John Perkins, “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” by Tom Williams, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel and “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion.