Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer (and Fall) Reading

Top Ten

 Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt has posted an inviting article about his favorite 10 religious books he has read in the past 10 years.  I invite you to share your favorite or most influential 10 religious books.  You can read his here: 

And mine are here:

1) Witness to Hope: Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel.
The seminal biography of the most influential leader of the 20th century who was, among many things, the conscience of human rights in Eastern Europe as well as a strategic player in the fall of the Soviet Communist bloc.  But more importantly he saw around corners better than anyone and provided an antidote to the Western slide into the sexual nihilism we are now facing.  

2) Without End: New and Collected Poems by Adam Zagajweski
Outside of the Hebrew Prophets no poet has ever written so powerfully at the intersection of history and transcendence.  Zagajweski is our greatest living voice.  Along with four or five other Polish poets he has preserved his culture despite the collapse of his country - which is another similarity to the Hebrew Prophets.

3) Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century by Harvey Cox
This swashbuckling account of the the Pentecostal movement is no mere chronicling.  Cox digs deep at the wellsprings of this revitalizing force within twentieth century Christianity.  Its essential reading for understanding Global Christianity in the 21st century.

4) Evangelical Disenchantment: 9 Portraits of Faith and Doubt by David Hempton
If surrender to the Holy Spirit is the primal source of enchanted Christianity, read this book to find out how the Church becomes "disenchanted." The American Church is increasingly in such a state and here is an important reason why.  (All the books on this list are antidotes to disenchantment).  

5) Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
This is volume one of a planned trilogy whereby Smith explains how humans at the root are liturgical beings (we worship stuff) and who are constantly and subversively being shaped by cultural and secular liturgies (i.e. the mall, the stadium, etc).  The antidote is not first and foremost apologetics but proper worship of the God who became King and who embodies ultimate reality.  We become real by worshiping Him.    

6) How God Became King by N.T. Wright
I could put two or more books by Wright on this list, but this one in particular places a lot of his earlier and scholarly tomes into the reach of all of us.  I have a few quibbles with Wright, but this book inspires worship of Jesus and builds confidence in the goodness of the Good News. 

7) Introduction to Phenomenology by Robert Sokolowski
Three of my favorite twentieth century theologians - Pope John Paul II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and  Dallas Willard - were all trained phenomenologists.  This book helped me to be a better student of their writings, to read them with more sympathy and understanding. 

8) Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson
I liked Gilead and Home, Robinson's more well known novels but this her first novel is my favorite.  The book aroused a longing in me that was difficult to name.  Very memorable. Her essays also merit your attention.  I'd start with the Death of Adam.  She is my favorite living Calvinist writer. 

9)  Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird
This is an enormously wise guide on "apophatic" prayer - prayer that brings us into the ever present presence of God without the aid of images.  At the source of our being is the triune God and prayer is ultimately about coming into contact with the One who is our life. 

10) When God Speaks Back by Tanya Luhrmann
This is a fair and insightful study of Charismatic Evangelical Prayer in various Vineyard Churches in North America.  John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard, was also very influential in the charismatic renewal within Anglicanism.  Thus, this is an insightful guide into the prayer life of many of us at Truro.  It describes "kataphatic" prayer - prayer  that sparks off of interior images. 


  1. Dear Tory:

    I'm embarrassed to say, I've only read one of your top ten...but it's Weigel's biography of His Holiness, Blessed John Paul II, so at least I started right at the top! :-)

    Here are seven (heh) of my most influential Christian books (or at any rate about Christianity), submitted for your consideration:

    The Man Born To Be King - Dorothy L. Sayers
    Possibly the best introduction to "The Jesus Story" I've ever read. There are some slightly jarring bits--it was, after all, written for a 1940s British radio audience--but still, the book I always give my friends who want to know more about "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

    Creed or Chaos? - Dorothy L. Sayers
    I've read most or all of Dorothy Sayers' Christian apologetics--this one makes a great companion volume to TMBTBK. I find her approach clear and easy to understand while not being oversimplified, and of course, she has a great writing style which keeps you engaged even through the hardest shoals of systematic theology.

    Death On A Friday Afternoon - Richard John Neuhaus
    An amazing series of essays on the last words of Christ--I try to reread at least some of them each year during Lent. Lots of interesting stuff that takes the somewhat lapidary subject matter and makes it live again.

    As I Lay Dying - Richard John Neuhaus
    A series of meditations on death and dying. Was a great comfort to me as my own father lay dying in 1999. Fr. Neuhaus never disappoints.

    The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism - Michael Novak
    Not, /strictu sensu/, a theological work, but certainly a religious one. Deeply influenced my thinking as it took two seemingly incommensurate aspects of modern life and showed how they fit together.

    Business As A Calling: Work and the Examined Life - Michael Novak
    Another fine work that reminds us that--as Brother Benedict would say--"Laborare est Orare." As with his earlier work (see above), helped me greatly in integrating my admiration for entrepreneurship with my love of Christ, which previously had sat somewhat uneasily side-by-side in my heart.

    The Rise of Christianity - Rodney Stark
    An anthologized series of essays--presumably originally stand-alone articles--that uses the tools of sociology to understand the emergence of Christianity and its astonishing rise from obscure splinter of Jewish heretics, to the dominant religious faith of one of the most powerful empires in history. As with Novak's work, not actually theological, or--in this case--religious, but fascinating as a non-religious interpretation of the spreading of the Good News.

    The Key To Heaven/Conversations with the Devil - Leszek Kolakowski
    I'd read some of Kolakowski's other works and knew him as a deep philosophical thinker and critic of Communism. I stumbled on this almost by accident and it was fascinating to see what lessons he draws from many of the familiar scriptural stories.

  2. Thank you Unknown. Let me know who are so we can keep the conversation going.

    I like your titles and would love to know more about Lezek Kolakowski


    1. Sorry about that. I tried to update my profile, but apparently it didn't work as I expected it to! :-)

      This is David Hecht, of the 7:30am contingent. :-)

      Kolakowski: I'm pretty sure you'd like him...or at least find him a worthy read and intellectual engagement. Wikipedia has a pretty good thumbnail of him ( was chagrined to see he'd died almost exactly four years ago--and I have several of his books should you take any interest in them: in reviewing my holdings I observe that I have two copies of one of his last collections of essays, /My Correct Views On Everything/ (2005), one of which I'd be most pleased to give you if you like.


  3. David

    Thanks for the book. I am intrigued. I will be taking it to the lake next week.