The Storm, Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner’s The Storm tells the tale of an ageing writer whose past and present failures come together under the gracious providence of a hidden God who works through nature, coincidence and even the machinations of troublemakers. Like many broadly protestant writers, Buechner doesn’t really manage to get past common grace, but this doesn’t stop him producing a deep and moving depiction of human life in magnificent prose. I was pleased to see Russell Moore commending Buechner over at TGC US a few weeks back.
Captivated by Christ. Seeing Jesus clearly in the book of Colossians, Richard Chin
There are academic commentaries for Greek-speakers and history buffs; there are occasional devotionals that give us scattered insights; there are synthetic commentaries which seek to show how a book or passage connects to the themes of the Bible and systematic theology. Richard Chin’s short commentary on Colossians (based on an AFES talk series) is something else—an exhortation that echoes as well expounds the text in the same spirit as the original letter. Read it if you want to be encouraged and excited about God’s plan for the world through Christ.
The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff
More essential reading from Jonathan Haidt. In this book Haidt and Lukianoff offer a sober picture of the university world of safe space, call-out culture and identity politics. Coddling of the American Mind demonstrates how smartphones and helicopter parenting have banished resilience and taken us back to the future with a return to honour and shame. The solution, they argue, is mostly to stop overreacting to everything and get some perspective from CBT. Of course, Christians have better resources for personal and community development in the gospel (as exemplified in the next book).
Coddling of the American Mind demonstrates how smartphones and helicopter parenting have banished resilience and taken us back to the future with a return to honour and shame.
Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd Jones
I found myself vaguely dysthymic for a lot of this year—reading lots of Phillip Pullman didn’t help! But Martyn Lloyd Jones did. Spiritual Depression is filled with loads of scriptural truth and wise insights into the differences between personality types. If you want to think better about your life; if you want what the objective truth of the gospel to control more of your outlook (and what Christian doesn’t?), then Jones is your man. If you want a sample, you can listen to an incomplete collection of the original sermons that became this book over at Monergism.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
This year I’ve been reading post-apocalyptic fiction to help get me into the frame of mind for a writing project (Pilgrim’s Progress meets Mad Max). Of course, nothing in this genre comes close to the tragic beauty of McCarthy’s book. It will make you weep. But there’s faint hope there too:
The woman when she saw him put her arms around him and held him. Oh, she said, I am so glad to see you. She would talk to him sometimes about God. He tried to talk to God but the best thing was to talk to his father and he did talk to him and he didnt forget. The woman said that was all right. She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.
Books that Saved my Life, Michael McGirr
Michael McGirr is a Melbourne writer, critic, former Catholic priest, and English teacher. He’s a person who seems to have done a lot of living and has been friends with a great many interesting people. In Books that Saved my Life, he writes forty essays about books that have meant a lot to him—authors ranging from Homer and Tolstoy to J.K. Rowling and Margaret Atwood. McGirr made me want to read better books and appreciate them better. However the best outcome for me was a resolution to memorise his favourite Psalm (63).
Pensées, Blaise Pascal
This year I finally read it in full. Pascal’s notes are full of insights—here’s one that seems timely for our age of resurgent systematic theology:
There are then a great number of truths, both of faith and of morality, which seem contradictory and which all hold good together in a wonderful system. The source of all heresies is the exclusion of some of these truths; and the source of all the objections which the heretics make against us is the ignorance of some of our truths.
The Swelling Year, Matthew Pullar
I try to read at least one book of poetry each year and so was very pleased to be sent an advance copy of (Melbourne writer) Matthew Pullar’s first book of poems. The Swelling Year offers poems for every season (and every day?) of the church year. There are a lot of very good poems here: reflections on the meaning of Easter and Christmas and responses to Christians of the past and present. But, for me, the best are those imbued with a specificity of time and place:
Fruit trees, plane trees, crickets in the night: all of this is built for peace, but never built to last.
See a lovely audio-visual introduction to the collection here:
Daemon Voices, Phillip Pullman
Certainly not the most trustworthy non-fiction book of my year, but definitely the most bracing. Reading Daemon Voices felt like a call to arms—or rather a challenge to arms. It made me, and still makes me, want to respond. See the beginnings of a response in my comments on the “Dark Materials” series.
Reading Between the Lines: Old Testament Daily Devotions, Glen Scrivener
Technically I shouldn’t include this because my son and I are still working through it, but it’s such great stuff that I wanted to let other people know about it too. Glen Scrivener’s daily devotions are great biblical theology: encouraging and thematically rich and useful for a range of ages from teen to adult. Highly recommended!