I read a dozen books this year! Here is a little review for each of the last six.
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene ****
189 pages. Fiction. Difficulty (1-5): 3.5
Graham Greene is hands-down one of my very favorite novelists. Akin to George Eliot’s Silas Marner, he undergirds his fiction with theological tones and principles for living. He observes, creates, and comments well on the human condition; as a result I find his characters to be very believable, lovable, relatable. Over and over again, he has burst my very idealistic bubble without turning me into depressive cynic. His stories stick with me in a way most fiction doesn’t.
In Heart of the Matter, he follows the love-interests, avoidance, and inner rage of a British policeman (an Enneagram 9, by my calculation!) stationed in West Africa. Greene’s empathy for the brokenness of humanity, beginning with self (in the mind and heart of the British policeman), is beautiful, complicated, and brilliant.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson ***
216 pages. Spiritual theology. Difficulty (1-5): 3
One of Peterson’s very first books (published in 1980 yet not at all obsolete 35 years later!), Long Obedience would be a great book to introduce a person to Peterson’s main life-theses. With short chapters and a straightforward style, it is the most readable, most accessible of any of the Peterson books I’ve read. Long Obedience had a special way of challenging me to seek to follow God (be a disciple of Jesus) more closely, without overwhelming me with idealistic perfection. Peterson effectually kills the Gnosticism that lurks in my heart over and over again, infusing his call to a more intimate walk with Jesus with hope and pragmatic vision to see how that actually could be so!
The Quiet American, Graham Greene ****
272 pages. Fiction. Difficulty (1-5): 4
Written prior to the actual Vietnam War, in The Quiet American, Greene astutely mirrors a militant, multi-national war in Vietnam with a ‘war’ between two men over one woman. His lead character, a British journalist, expresses pacifist leanings when it comes to military combat…but what of romantic sparring?? Again, Greene shows brilliantly that life and war and love are, simply, complicated.
Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright *****
352 pages. Eschatology. Difficulty (1-5): 4.5
N.T. Wright is a deep thinker who insists that his deep theology affect the movement of his hands and feet and heart. For that reason, I love and respect his writing quite whole-heartedly. Surprised by Hope turned my eschatological (end-times, or ‘life after life after death’, as Wright would say it) world upside down – or perhaps it turned it right side up? He repeats his theme over and over again in many different ways, but the deeply-ingrained Western eschatological thinking he battles necessitates his redundancy. His sharp intellect keeps the redundancy from insulting the reader. Wright simply returns to early church thinking and New Testament writing to show how modern Christians generally think too shallowly, too irrelevantly, too boringly, too futuristically about the [present and!] future kingdom of God.
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster ***
171 pages. Spiritual disciplines. Difficulty (1-5): 3
Penned in 1978, this Christian classic was a bit of a mixed-bag for me (and for one of my dear friends who read it alongside me). Overall, it is a good introduction to the big, broad world of spiritual discipline. It functions as a great reference book because each of the medium-short chapters stand alone and can be read as a single, isolated unit. I found the introduction to be especially resonant. Most chapters were thought-provoking for me, giving me a bit of a new spin on how to think about a certain spiritual discipline. However, sometimes I found Foster’s lens to be much too narrow for a particular discipline. The concept of spiritual discipline (or soul exercise, as is more common in my vocabulary) is profound in and of itself, and upon those grounds, Foster’s Celebration is a worthwhile read.
The Gift of Being Yourself, David G. Benner ****
114 pages. Spiritual formation. Self-reflection. Difficulty (1-5): 3.5
Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself is a simple treatise on the inextricable relationship between knowing God and knowing self. He argues emphatically that both are necessary for genuine Christian transformation, and that they influence and lead one another in life-altering ways. My personal experience on the inward journey absolutely aligns with Benner’s thoughts and theses.
Genuinely transformational knowing of self always involves encountering and embracing previously unwelcome parts of self… There is enormous value in naming and coming to know these excluded parts of self. Powerful conditioning in childhood encourages us to acknowledge only the most acceptable parts of our self. And parts of self that are not given a place at the family table become stronger, not weaker. Operating out of sight and beyond awareness, they have increasing influence on our behavior. Christian spirituality involves acknowledging all our part-selves, exposing them to God’s love and letting him weave them into the new person he is making.
And the 2015 winner of a spot on my “I insist!” Book List: Answering God: Using the Psalms as Tools for Prayer, Eugene Peterson.