What are they reading?
Our regular columnists are clever writers. Ever wonder what they’re reading? We asked them.
Whenever I see “what I’m reading” lists I always feel the weight of my “to read” pile. On my best days I make peace with the pile, viewing it as a repository of possibility. Still, here are some gems I’ve read recently or am reading now:
Daring Greatly, Brené Brown. The fine folks at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City asked me to teach a leadership course in which we talked about vulnerability, the subject of Brené Brown’s work.
Preparing the Pastors We Need, George Mason. Thinking about new staffing models for my church and mining the wisdom George has collected here.
If the Church Were Christian, Philip Gulley. I chose it because it rattled my settled theological perspective and made me think hard about what I believe.
Does Jesus Really Love Me?, Jeff Chu. I recently sat down with Jeff and got to know him, so in preparation I read his book. It turned out to be a sharp, thoughtful, poignant and compelling treatment of evangelical Christianity and homosexuality. Plus, Jeff is really cool.
In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen. I’m rereading this little gem for inspiration, courage, reflection for the task of leadership.
Insurgent, Veronica Roth. I was curious about why I couldn’t get my 16-year-old’s nose out of a book over a recent holiday and as a result got hooked on the Divergent series. I’ll be finished with book two and maybe book three by the time you read this list.
“What are you reading?” Some questions tempt us to lie. I am tempted to say that I am reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. This is technically true since I read the first five pages 30 years ago. After some thought, I have decided to tell the truth.
I am reading Billy Collins’ Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. Collins writes for people who want to like poetry but are too shallow to actually enjoy John Keats. Collins writes this about his book: “Go little book, put on a jacket and venture outside …. stay out as late as you like, and talk to as many strangers as you can.”
My lovely wife, Carol, thought a 900-page biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft on the bedside table would be romantic. I am 100 pages into Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, and Teddy and Taft are still single. Maybe they were out of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Most professors read the textbooks before assigning them, but I am staying one chapter ahead of my students with Preaching the Gospel of Mark: Proclaiming the Power of God by Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm.
I like the books I’m reading, but if I had been warned that I was about to be asked I would have started something by Jürgen Moltmann.
For the last two years, my reading has been shaped by research for a new book titled A Sense of the Heart: A History of Christian Religious Experience in the U.S. I have benefited from many books, including these:
Jonathan Edwards’ A Treatise on Religious Affections (1746) was an effort to distinguish true religion from false after controversy developed over revival “enthusiasms.” Edwards wrote that “spiritual understanding consists … in a sense of the heart, of the supreme beauty and sweetness of the holiness or moral perfection of divine things.”
In The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), William James seems less interested in religion that is inherited or passed on through specific traditions than with “individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever.” The description of once- and twice-born persons is particularly insightful.
I also revisited A Spirituality of Resistance by my friend Roger Gottlieb, who suggests that such a spirituality points us toward both inner and “outer examination, outer transformation and the pursuit of justice in the world.”
Finally, I have lived in Ann Taves’ monumental work, Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, focusing “on a class of seemingly involuntary acts alternatively explained in religious and secular terms,” experiences often expressed “in religious terms.”
I just re-read Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, which is an incisive look at how the center of gravity of Christianity is shifting from the northern to the southern hemisphere. Because our school is in a partnership with Myanmar Institute of Theology, I am seeking to reframe mission in a post-colonial context. This book helps.
I just finished Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship, edited by Rodney Wallace Kennedy and Derek C. Hatch. Richly theological and practical, this collection of essays by gifted scholar-practitioners offers constructive guidance for our worship as Baptists.
I am also revisiting Diana Butler Bass’ significant contribution, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. Amidst the welter of laments about the marginalization of the church, she seeks this as a hopeful inflection period for Christian communities.
My favorite devotional book of late is The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Every page is an inspiration and reminder of the power of sermons to bring fresh insights to bear on familiar texts.
In my work with congregations, I have probably recommended this book more than all others combined: Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, by Ruth Haley Barton. Barton describes a way for a church to do visioning that far surpasses the capacities of corporate strategic planning models.
I asked my clergy son, Ryan Wilson, what he was reading and he suggested Hollow Faith, by Stephen Ingram. A McAfee graduate like my son, Ingram challenges youth ministers to move beyond “nice” but hollow faith to a faith of depth and complexity. The book includes both youth curriculum and a parent guide.
I asked my wife, who is a voracious reader, what book she had recently read that was memorable, and she pointed to The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Dissenbaugh. The author explores themes of redemption and the difficult journey to discover the love a family provides.
Having recently bought a condo in Chapel Hill, N.C., I’ve read lots of area writers in an effort to get to know that community. Lee Smith’s recent Guests on Earth is hauntingly beautiful. Allan Gurganus published Local Souls late this year, his first book in a decade. Rosecrans Baldwin’s You Lost Me There did, indeed, lose me. Up next is Daniel Wallace, perhaps Big Fish.
On the theological front, I just finished Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable. It captured for me both the promise and frustration of theology today: at times so achingly beautiful and profound that it made me want to weep, and at other times so mind-numbingly boring, repetitive and obscure that I wanted to fall asleep.
And for pure joy, I read John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. He’s the best storyteller around. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. It’s hilarious.
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