I finished the year with a flurry of reading, including a massive biography of evangelist Billy Graham and a memoir by one of his associates, Leighton Ford, both quite excellent. I read and reflected upon some profound Advent books by N. T. Wright and Fleming Rutledge. I read books on both the religious left and the religious right. Os Guinness challenged me to reflect on how I might best seize the day. I read books asserting that it was scientifically tenable to affirm Adam and Eve as common genealogical ancestors, that Paul was a “new covenant Jew,” that I can become an ordinary mystic, and on the value of narrative apologetics in Christian proclamation. I also returned to two old favorites, Wendell Berry and Agatha Christie. So here is the wrap up of the last of 2019!
A Life of Listening, Leighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A memoir in which Ford sums up his life as one of listening for God’s voice, and the unique voice of his own he discovered as he did so. Review
Divine Impassibility (Spectrum Multiview Books), Edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill. Contributions by Daniel Castelo, James E. Dolezal, Thomas Jay Oord, and John C. Peckham. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A discussion of God’s experience of emotions and the possibility of God suffering with views ranging from one of God not changing or experiencing emotion to God, while not changing in nature, is in relation with his creatures and experiences emotions and suffering in those relationships. Review
The Genealogical Adam and Eve, S. Joshua Swamidass. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A physician/scientist who studies genomics argues on the basis of genealogical science that the existence of a historic Adam and Eve, specially created by God, who are universal ancestors of us all, is not contradicted by evolutionary science. Review
The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory, George Santayana. New York: Dover Publications, 1955 (originally published 1896). A philosophical discussion of the nature of beauty, grounding it in the pleasure of the perceiver with an object and its associations. Review
The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond, L. Benjamin Rolsky. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. A study of the ecumenical movement among the liberal religious catalyzed by television producer Norman Lear and the causes, particularly stemming from the rise of the religious right, both for its rise and waning influence in American society. Review
Becoming an Ordinary Mystic, Albert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. Explores what it means to be a friend of God, to walk in an awareness of God’s grace, in the ordinary of life. Review
Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. A collection of sermons and writings organized according to the lectionary calendar of pre-Advent and Advent Sundays and special days, focusing on preparation for return of Christ. Review
Remembering, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008 (originally published 1988). Following the loss of a hand, a grieving Andy Catlett struggles with both his loss and his anger with agribusiness, that he believes is destroying a way of life, and gropes his way toward healing. Review
Advent for Everyone: Matthew, N. T. Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. An Advent devotional with four weeks of daily readings and commentary by a noted New Testament scholar and pastor. Review
Paul, a New Covenant Jew, Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid (Foreword by Michael J. Gorman). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2019. In answer to the question of “what kind of Jew was Paul?”, three Catholic scholars, focusing on 2 Corinthians 3:2-16, argue that he was a new covenant Jew and then relate this idea to apocalyptic, Christology, atonement, justification, and the Lord’s supper. Review
A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, William Martin. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018 (Updated edition, originally published in 1991). An in-depth biography of the life of Billy Graham, chronicling his evangelistic crusades, shaping influence on evangelicalism, his pivotal role in organizing consultations and training to mobilize world evangelism, and his relationships with presidents and international leaders, as well as his associates, and family members. Review
Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith For the Common Good, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Argues that the religious right has taught its constituency to misread the Bible, portray those advocating for the marginalized as anti-biblical, and the need to listen to these communities as part of recovering a biblical commitment to the pursuit of justice for all for the common good. Review
Elephants Can Remember (Hercule Poirot #37), Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1972). Poirot and crime writer Ariadne Oliver team up at the request of a mother and young couple, to learn the truth about an unexplained double suicide many years earlier. Review
Best Book: I spent a good part of the month reading A Prophet with Honor on the life of Billy Graham. William Martin, while showing Graham’s flat spots, including his political involvements, helps us understand Graham’s gifts, his vision, and how he faithfully and energetically pursued these things over a long life. Beyond the crowds of those he evangelized was the crowd of faithful witnesses he trained to go to every part of the world.
Quote of the Month: This was from the memoir of Graham’s associate, Leighton Ford. In the Introduction to the book, he describes his youthful response to the call of Jesus after listening to a retired missionary and a college student speak of Jesus:
I was five then. Now, eighty plus years later, I can barely recall the voices and face of that missionary lady and that college student, but I know that through them I heard another Voice calling me, a voice I have been listening for ever since. So I write my listening story not because it is a perfect story or one to emulate but as a testament to the power of listening for the voice of my Lord.
I hope, like Ford, to live “a life of listening.
Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve read the volumes of the Contours of Christian Theology series as they’ve come out. The Last Things is the final one, and uses the lens of the Lord’s prayer and the theologies of Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann to explore what we believe about the last things. The Last Leonardo concerns a painting that sold for $450 million, reputed to be da Vinci’s last work, a painting of Christ, Salvator Mundi. It is a fascinating account of the challenges of establishing a work like this as a genuine master, rather than a student or later copy, and the unique challenges of restoration of a painting that was literally in pieces when an art dealer acquired it. Bowery Mission is a history of one of the oldest and most distinguished “rescue missions” in lower Manhatten, and the many lives turned around through its ministry. Love and Quasars is a book on an astrophysicists journey away from and back to Christian faith, first as he thought the two incompatible, and then as he saw them as best of friends, and more.
All the best as you take a final glance back at the books you’ve read over the last year, and begin the ones that you will associate with 2020.