Books I’ve Been Reading

January 30th, 2015 / 1 Comment

renovating holinessIt’s hard to overestimate the formative power of books! And I’ve been reading some excellent ones lately.

I typically post a list of about ten books I’m reading every six months or so. But I missed my last installment. So I’m offering a double portion this time.

Some of the books I have been reading are inspiring, others informative, and others simply address topics that interest me. I’ve read some of these books completely. But others I am only in the midst of reading.

I offer this list not only as a way to recommend these books. I do so also to portray the diverse interests that drive me as a Christian scholar.

1.) John Wesley in America, by Geordan Hammond
Hammond is the director of the Manchester Wesley Research Center and a lecturer at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, England. This book is a revised version of his doctoral thesis. Like most dissertations, this book explores the details of its subject matter, in this case, John Wesley’s life and impact in America. This is the first book length study of Wesley’s experience in America, and Hammond explores Wesley’s own writings and those of his contemporaries. His argument is that Wesley’s time in America served as a laboratory for how his ideas about primitive Christianity might be instituted in England.

2.) Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, by Belden C. Lane
A few years ago, I read a wilderness spirituality book written by Lane, and I considered using it as a text for my theology in nature and backpacking class. But that book was too complex for my undergraduate students. This text is much better for my purposes. Lane addresses issues in spiritual formation, particular individuals from whom he gains inspiration, and talks about it all in context of particular hikes. I love this book!

3.) Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine, by Roberto Sirvent
This is one of those books I wish I had written. Sirvent explores the issues of divine impassibility, arguing that God must suffer and be affected by the world. This is not a new argument and one I’ve made in several books of my own. But what Sirvent does is say that an ethic that calls upon us to imitate God must imagine God to be passable and vulnerable to others. In short: an impassable God is unworthy of our imitation. Spot on.

4.) The Lost World of Adam and Eve, by John H. Walton
Walton’s previous book, The Lost World of Genesis, has been highly influential. In this advanced copy of the follow up book, Walton explores Genesis Chapters 2 and 3 in light of the human origins debate. The book begins by exploring some of the material in his previous book. It then moves to explore what is at stake when thinking about Adam and Eve, especially in relation to questions of evolution and human origins. This is important reading for Evangelicals concerned about what they think are implications for rejecting a historical Adam and Eve.

5.) Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement, by Catherine Keller
I have long been impressed by the work of Catherine Keller. Her thinking is complex and her writing evocative. This book is no different. At stake here is what our language can or cannot tell us about God. I have not yet finished this book, in part because I always need to read Keller slowly!

6.) The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal/Charismatic Imagination, by Amos Yong
This is actually a book I read in a rather cursory way earlier. But I returned to it recently, because I find it so rich. I used it as a conversation partner in my own recent writing on miracles. Although my views are different in some ways than Yong’s, I find this book highly instructive and helpful. This is an important work.

7.) Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LBGT in the Church, by David Gushee
I picked up this book because the issues of sexuality are so much at the center of conversations these days. Gushee has been a leading Evangelical scholar, even serving as a leader amongst Evangelicals in opposition to LBGT issues. This book represents a change of mind of Gushee’s part. I have not yet read it entirely, but I plan to as preparation for a World Made Fresh lecture next November in Atlanta. Gushee will give the keynote address at that Atlanta event, and Ronald Sider will respond.

8.) The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, edited by Graham Twelftree
As I mentioned in my reference to Yong’s work, I have been writing on miracles in recent months. This companion has been helpful. The various references in it ask important questions about what we might consider a miracle. Essayists address miracles in the Bible, in Christian tradition, in other religious traditions, and related issues.

9.) The Wisdom of the Liminal: Evolution and Other Animals in Human Becoming, by Celia Deane-Drummond
Deane-Drummond explores similarities and differences between humans and other animals, especially as they relate to ethics. I was first alerted to this book, because Celia references and engaged some of my own work on love. I find the book helpful in many ways, including emphasizing some of my own views on the subject. We differ, however, in our use and appreciation of Thomas Aquinas.

10.) Iconoclastic Theology: Gilles Deleuze and the Secretion of Atheism, by F. LeRon Shults
This is one of the most challenging books I have read in some time. It is challenging in its explication of beliefs and delineation of thought. It is also challenging in terms of the conclusions and proposals Shults offers. I found myself often agreeing with his criticisms of some forms of Christianity. But I don’t end up at the same place, believing that alternative visions of Christianity are more plausible. In any case, I recommend this book to those interested in continental philosophy and its engagement with Christianity and Deleuze.

11.) Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, by Candy Gunther-Brown
Brown’s book is a great resource for thinking about the relationship between prayer, science, and arguments about the two. Her main point is that scientists can and should measure the effects of prayer on health. But Brown believes that science cannot prove prayer’s healing power. The work draws especially from Pentecostal traditions and offers strong arguments against typical objections to healing and prayer’s power to generate healing effects.

12.) Mornings with Oswald: Daily Reflections with my Utmost for His Highest, by Donald Minter
This devotional book offers a day by day set of reflections in conversation with scripture, Oswald Chambers, and Minter’s own thoughts about God and life. It is a very practical book that can be used on a daily basis. I am especially pleased that one of my photos graces the book’s cover!

13.) Marks of the Missional Church: Ecclesial Practices for the Sake of the World, by Libby Tedder-Hugus, Keith Schwanz, and Jason Veach
The authors of this book propose a journey toward what they call, “revitalized ecclesiology.” They take the marks of the church — one, holy, catholic, and apostolic — and use those marks to describe what the church is and ought to be. In particular, they are interested in the practices of the church. They use stories from various missional communities to show what the marks of the church might look like as Christians live out the mission of God in today’s world.

14.) Panentheism and Scientific Naturalism: Rethinking Evil, Morality, Religious Experience, Religious Pluralism, and the Academic Study of Religion, by David Griffin

This book is a nice collection of some of Griffin’s most important ideas. It offers the reader a nice, overall introduction to Griffin’s views of reality, especially God and society. Those not familiar with Griffin’s ideas would benefit from reading this tome.

15.) Renewal in Love: Living Holy Lives in God’s Good Creation, by Michael Lodahl and April Cordero Maskiewicz
A theologian and biologist come together and explore what Wesleyan Theology might have to say about nature and our care for it. They explore what it means to be made in God’s image and also to image God. The prose is accessible yet compelling. This is the kind of little book I plan to take on some of my backpacking treks.

16.) Me and We: God’s Social Gospel, by Leonard Sweet
This accessible book follows the ongoing quest to think about the relationship of the individual and the community. Sweet uses his typically engaging prose to make an argument for a new way to talk about the restoration of community in relationship. Those who have read Sweet’s books will find this one follows the style of so many powerful books Sweet has previously offered.

17.) The Bible Tells me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made us Unable to Read It, by Peter Enns
This is one of those books that is easy to read, but will likely rock the world of many who pick it up! While many people have appreciated the Bible, and some even defended it against all objections, Enns reads the Bible closely and offers a way of interpreting it that rings true. The Bible’s raw messiness isn’t a problem to be solved, it is an invitation into deeper faith. I can see this book being used in small group discussions and Sunday school classes. But I recommend it only to who are willing to think outside their usual boxes!

18.) Justice in Love, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
In this academic work, Wolterstorff explores the relationship between love and justice. He argues for his own perspective in which he believes love only acts unjustly when that love is malformed. I found myself writing often in the margins of this book. At some points, I think Wolterstorff should rethink his choice of love language. But in general, I am sympathetic to his conclusions.

19.) Renovating Holiness, edited by Josh Broward and Thomas Jay Oord
I saved this as my final book, because it is one I coedited with Josh Broward. This book offers nearly 120 short essays by young leaders in the Church of the Nazarene. These Millennial and Xer Christians explore what holiness might mean in our present setting. I offer a concluding post script that points out what I believe are ten dominant themes in the books essays. You can order it on Amazon or at www.renovatingholiness.com  Josh and I are hoping the book fosters new conversations in the Church of the Nazarene about what it means to be holy as God is holy.

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Jeremy Chen

curious about what you wish Wolterstorff would change about his usage of the language of love?


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