Every year at about this time I publish an annotated list of the books that I found most interesting during the preceding twelve months. Whenever I publish this list, I explain that I don’t necessarily agree with these books. I don’t even necessarily recommend them. I find them interesting, and what I find interesting may be entirely useless to someone else. Still, if you want to know, read on.
Bush, George W. 41: A Portrait of My Father. New York: Crown, 2014.
I’ve always liked the two Bush presidents, both of whom proved themselves to be fundamentally decent men. This book is the younger President Bush writing the biography of his father. Naturally, the story is imbued with filial warmth, but it goes further. In this narrative, one president brings his perspective to bear upon the trials and decisions of another, offering both comment and critique. He then takes advantage of the occasion to reflect upon his own trials and decisions.
Campbell, Constantine. Paul and Union With Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
As a rule, dispensationalists connect union with Christ to the baptism of the Spirit. Consequently, they see only the Church as “in Christ.” Campbell, however, examines every occurrence of “in Christ” and related language in the New Testament. He effectively demonstrates that this language is not univocal, but that “in Christ” can designate a range of relationships. At points the book is like reading a parts catalog, but Campbell brings serious study to bear upon his topic. This is a very valuable discussion.
Casey, Zachary A. and Shannon K. McManimon. Building Pedagogues: White Practicing Teachers and the Struggle for Antiracist Work in the Schools. Albany: SUNY Press, 2020.
The authors of this book head up the White Studies Program at the University of Minnesota. They are fully committed to Critical Race Theory, and they intend to propagate it through the public schools. This volume details how they are working to train teachers to bring CRT into the schools in the name of antiracism. If you wonder whether CRT is in the public schools, then you ought to read this book.
Clark-Soles, Jaime. Women in the Bible. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.
This author is a committed feminist who is also a New Testament scholar. She admits up front that she is not willing to submit to any biblical text that legitimates patriarchy. She reinterprets many of those texts and flatly rejects the authority of others. Nevertheless, she manages to keep her discussion engaging, and she sometimes offers helpful insights into the text. I found myself arguing with the author almost continuously. If she had been present, I’m pretty sure I would have been dismissed for “mansplaining.” Yes, I disagreed with much of what this book said. But I still found it interesting.
DeGrazia, David. Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford, 2002.
What Clark-Soles is to complementarianism, DeGrazia is to belief that humans are uniquely created in the image of God. In fact, DeGrazia simply dismisses this consideration. For him, humans are not qualitatively unique. Animals have moral standing, too, and consequently animals have rights. At least, vertebrates do. And maybe some other species, though DeGrazia doesn’t quite know where to draw the line. But if you want a good, readable introduction to the topic, this is your book.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Gramercy, 1994 repr.
The author of this text was the first Black American to earn a doctorate (Harvard). He was born after the end of the War between the States, so he never experienced slavery. What he did encounter was Jim Crow and the battery of racial discriminations that it represented. His book is a powerful plea for equality. It is also a rebuttal of the more moderate approach of Booker T. Washington, whose autobiography, Up from Slavery, antedated The Souls of Black Folk by two years. Both books should be required reading for all Americans.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know. New York: Little, Brown, 2019.
Malcolm Gladwell is one of those authors who brings a fresh perspective to every topic that he explores. In this book he examines the question of how people read one another in personal interactions, and how those readings turn into misreadings when they cross cultural boundaries. In fact, he ends up arguing that many of the ways in which people read each other (posture, eye contact, etc.) are not nearly as effective as many assume. While this book is not Gladwell’s greatest triumph, it is nevertheless an engaging read.
Godin, Seth. We Are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal. New York: Portfolio, 2015.
The thesis of Godin’s work is that “normal,” understood as a measure of how well an individual fits the culture, was a construct of capitalism and mass media. With the advent of the new media, and especially the Internet, the pressures toward conformity have dissipated, resulting in burgeoning little communities that each display their own deviation from whatever norm remains. In other words, each tribe offers its own kind of weird, and most people identify with some matrix of such tribes. The upshot is that large, mass organizations are ill equipped to respond to the greater diversity—the more so since the weirdness of each tribe cannot be faked. Godin’s thesis can be questioned, but it explains much, and it has direct application to the situation that churches face today.
Greene, Brian. Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. New York: Vintage, 2020.
Written by a physicist who specializes in string theory, this book is an attempt to provide a complete cosmology within a random universe. Greene is a complete materialist who believes that nothing exists except particles (beginning at the sub-atomic level). Given the existence of these particles in a random universe, he believes that he can explain the presence of order, progress, mind, sensibility, and even morality. His presentation is engaging and relatively free of hostility. I would love to see a conversation between Greene and an adept Presuppositionalist.
Jung, Carl G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Pantheon, 1963.
Along with Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung was one of the fathers of modern psychotherapy. This volume offers his autobiographical reflections, including his debt to Freud, the development of his own distinctive ideas, and the eventual break between the two figures. It also explains much about the German and Austrian milieu that gave rise to modern psychotherapy. Neither Freud nor Jung will ever be heroes to me, but I was fascinated to wander through Jung’s mind for a while.
The foregoing titles compose about half my list of most interesting books. The remainder of the list will follow next week.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
In God, My Faithful God I Trust
Sigismund Weingärtner; tr. Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878)
In God, my faithful God,
I trust when dark my road;
Though many woes o’ertake me,
Yet He will not forsake me;
His love it is doth send them,
And when ’tis best will end them.
My sins assail me sore,
But I despair no more;
I build on Christ who loves me,
From this rock nothing moves me;
To Him I all surrender
To Him, my soul’s Defender.
If death my portion be,
Then death is gain to me,
And Christ my life forever,
From whom death cannot sever;
Come when it may, He’ll shield me,
To Him I wholly yield me.
O Jesus Christ, my Lord,
So meek in deed and word,
Thou once didst die to save us,
Because Thou fain wouldst have us
After this life of sadness
Heirs of Thy heavenly gladness.
“So be it,” then I say,
With all my heart each day;
We, too, dear Lord, adore Thee,
We sing for joy before Thee.
Guide us while here we wander,
Till safely landed yonder.