Cue Julie Andrews: “These are a few of my favorite things…” I know, I know, it’s cliche. But if you’re looking for something new (or just new to you) to sink your teeth into in 2012, here are some humble suggestions from my end, grouped by category.
Books, part one (theology / biblical studies / spirituality)
The Divine Conspiracy (by Dallas Willard) – spiritual life, the kingdom of God, and Jesus as a teacher and master of the human personality. This is a classic on how to think of the intersection of our daily lives, the New Testament, the Spirit, and spiritual disciplines.
Washed and Waiting (by Wesley Hill) – a profound, autobiographical and theologically rich meditation on the church, living in tension, struggling with sin and being a gay Christian.
The Doors of the Sea (by David Bentley Hart) – one of the most compelling, literary and concise treatments I’ve ever seen of the question of human suffering and the existence / goodness / relevance of God, written in the wake of the Dec. 2004 tsunami.
In the Name of Jesus (by Henri Nouwen) – a short and beautifully profound meditation on what it means to do ministry in Jesus’ name.
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (by Miroslav Volf) – a vision for how the Christian faith intrinsically works towards peace and the public good. Volf’s account is not without its tensions, but he does a fantastic job of diagnosing and describing various ways faith “malfunctions,” as well as arguing compellingly that those who use Christianity towards violent or repressive ends have in fact emptied Christianity of its distinctive content; what is needed to combat this is a “thick,” biblically-rich faith, rather than a “thin,” sloganeering faith.
Desiring the Kingdom (by James K. A. Smith) – written particularly for those who have an interest in Christian higher education, Smith challenges the “Christian worldview” paradigm for focusing too much on ‘head knowledge’ and thus having a faulty anthropology. He posits that humans are first and foremost lovers, “desiring animals” whose loves are shaped unconsciously every day by cultivators of desire he calls liturgies, seen in the cinema, shopping malls, universities, and all sorts of cultural institutions. He calls for Christian educators to think more holistically about education and human formation and for churches to think more critically about how corporate worship can provide competing liturgies that shape human desire and subvert the caustic liturgies (and idolatries) of the world.
The following three books are ones I have not yet read but that I am hoping to read this year:
The Pastor (by Eugene Peterson) – the memoir of one who has written widely and wisely on spiritual theology.
A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (by G. K. Beale) – biblical theology focusing on the themes of new creation and the kingdom of God.
A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life’s Hardest Questions (edited by Dallas Willard) – part of a series of lectures called the Veritas Forums, this collection of essays provides the perspectives of several incisive Christian leaders on truth, atheism, faith & science, and what it means to be human.
Books, part two (Fiction and one non-fiction)
Watership Down (by Richard Adams) – this is my favorite book; I reread it every year. It is the story of two rabbits named Hazel and Fiver who must leave their home with a band of companions due to a prophetically foretold impending disaster. It is a story of courage, friendship and mythology set in the grassy downs of rural England. You will not regret reading this book.
The Lord of the Rings (by J. R. R. Tolkien) – here’s another set of books I try to reread every year. They are eminently worth the effort.
The Sparrow (by Mary Doria Russell) – upon discovering intelligent life on a (fairly) nearby planet, a team of Jesuit priests and sundry others are sent on a secret mission to make contact. One priest returns alive, physically and emotionally maimed and refusing to talk about what happened. The book begins by moving along two storylines: preparations for the journey and the journey’s aftermath.
Gardens of the Moon (by Steven Erikson) – this is the first in a ten-novel fantasy series called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. If you love immense new worlds, epic conflicts, fantastic clashes of power and political intrigue, you’ll enjoy these novels. Be forewarned: they’re really, really long, really addicting, and you get thrown right in the middle of the action with the first one, and the backstory is a long time coming.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) – an often heart-rending look at the daily oppression, disenfranchisement and discrimination faced by women in various cultures worldwide simply because they are women. You will be outraged as you read, and hopefully that outrage will fuel greater awareness and action.
Music (Including some recent and some longtime favorites)
The Goat Rodeo Sessions (by Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Yo-Yo Ma)
Inni (by Sigur Ros)
The Wild Hunt (by The Tallest Man on Earth)
Odd Soul (by Mutemath)
Undun (by The Roots)
El Camino (by The Black Keys)
Here’s to a happy and taste-broadening new year!