During this month I traveled the spectrum of reading from the preaching of hell and damnation in pre-Civil War America to America’s gods. I read a fictional account exploring the dynamics of adultery and a couple of books on calling. I explored how capital is changing the economic landscape of the world, and what religious communities often think of when they use rhetoric about changing the world. I read about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the challenge of being both-and people in an either-or world. It felt like a bit of a “both-and” kind of month! So here’s the list:
1. Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction, Kathryn Gin Lum. The book explores the varying approaches to the subject of hell and judgment during this period as well as the appropriation of damnation language to the problem of slavery.
2. Both-And: Living the Christ-Centered Life in an Either-Or World, Rich Nathan with Insoo Kim. Pastors Nathan and Kim describe and narrate the vision of Vineyard Columbus to live as a both-and church that is both evangelical and charismatic, both united and racially diverse, both showing mercy and pursuing justice, and more.
3. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers, Dale Hanson Bourke. This book doesn’t take sides but seeks to provide background information about the conflict, the history, the context of daily life, and other players in the conflict. Well illustrated and concise.
4. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty. This lengthy best-seller explores the growth of capital in relation to income and the growing inequities of wealth and poverty that may result in the US and Europe and other parts of the world.
5. To Change the World, James Davison Hunter. Many organizations and movements in Christian circles have used the language of changing the world but have not been cognizant to the deeper dynamics of culture change nor its double-edged character.
6. A Shooting Star, Wallace Stegner. This novel not only traces the unraveling of a marriage following an incident of adultery but raises questions about the illusions and follies of the American dream for both people and places.
7. Visions of Vocation, Steven Garber. The main thesis of this book is that to live as a called person is to be implicated in what one knows, to have a sense of responsibility that flows out of understanding the world and our place and work in it. Garber does a wonderful job of unpacking this idea through narratives of his work in helping many young leaders discern vocation.
8. American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Shadow, a released prisoner gets caught up in a war between the old and new gods with which Gaiman populates the American landscape, and discovers his own identity in the process.
9. Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, Gordon T. Smith. Smith articulates a vision of becoming a saint as union with Christ that results in holy character that is wise, works good, loves, and is joyful.
I thought there were some great books in this month’s collection, three of which I gave 5 star ratings and a few others were near misses.
What’s next? Well, I’m in the middle of a biography of Abraham Kuyper, theologian and prime minister of the Netherlands at the beginning of the 20th century, an autobiography of Chai Ling, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square Demonstrations in 1989, a collection of critical essays by George Steiner and a book on why study church history. After these, I will probably pick up a book on working class in Youngstown that I’ve been wanting to read for some time and an Ann Patchett novel.
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