Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Spiritual/ Religion Books of 2009

This year has not been a big year of reading books on Christian subjects written from the inside. No self-help and very little on theology or Emerging Church issues. As my spiritual journey has taken some very Bazan-like twists and turns (some of which I will be writing about soon), I have felt myself drawn to books that are more sociological, journalistic, outsider observer or detached. I am interested in Christianity, my faith, as it is seen from the outside and as it is seen sociologically or economically. I am interested in how the other religions, especially those with common ancestry are seen, what we have in common and how we act in the world.

That said, I must say most I read that is straight Christian theologically or on the Christian life is boring me right now. It seems like it has all been written before. That said, there are some Christian books from preachers and theologians I really want to read. I just didn't do it in 09.

I would have read Danielle Shroyer's latest and Tony Jone's Didache book, along with others by Soon-Chan Rah and Jim Belcher (if anyone would like to send a copy of any of these books, I can give you my address). But, for some reason they did not arrive for free on my doorstep and aren't available at my library. As always, these are not necessarily books that came out in this calendar year. I just happened to read them in 2009.

I read the Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing once again. It is still one of the best religion books of the decade to me.

10. What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case For Gay Marriage by David Myers and Letha Dawson Scanzoni -It is a few years old, but I found this book in which they clearly create a compelling, and wholly Christian case for gay marriage, taking the Bible as seriously as anyone on the other side of the argument, the best thing I have read on the subject since John Stott took the other side a few years ago. While I am no expert and personally don't care loads about the issue (sorry to those on both sides), I enjoy reading the differing ideas on this contentious subject, especially when written passionately, but thoughtfully and lacking polemic fireworks or overstatements.

9. Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz- I listen to Plotz weekly on the Slate Political Gabfest so I am predisposed to love his work. If I preached, I would use this resource from a Secular Jew to bring undiscovered (by me at least) insights into Scripture, some obvious, some counter intuitive. To read the OT with fresh eyes would be a wonderful thing. I envy Plotz.

8. Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps -As I type this on my blog, I agree with what he says.

7. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller - Keller makes the most convincing argument for orthodox understandings of God and faith I have seen in a while.

6. My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders in the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith by Benyamin Cohen- My Christianity is very Jewish, not in the liturgical sense, but in the way I look at the world around me. Because of this, I find connection with most Jewish writers, especially those coming to the Bible and religion. I found this an insightful look at Christianity by a skeptical, but fascinated friend.

5. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose - I could point out all the flaws of this book, but one thing stands out to shoo those critiques away. It is not a religious manifesto, but a memoire by a really young writer. Plus, it is infinitely readable. It is hard to put down once you pick it up.

4. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr - I should have read it a long time ago, but I am finally digging deeper into this. An excellent resource for those wanting to see who they are, why they act the way they do and how to make changes based upon their own personality and inner workings to be better people.

3. How To Win a Cosmic War: god, Globalization and The End of the War on Terror by Reza Aslan- This could be a politics or religion book by the author of the excellent primer on Islam No god but God. Aslan is a great writer and thinker. In some ways I think of him as one of the first postmodern Islamic thinkers, their own Brian McLaren. Aslan's contention is that we should not fight a cosmic war with Islam because it is impossible to win such a war, especially with a belief system not based upon traditional Islam. It gives great insight into the strains of Islam and how awry things have gone ( and how the West has caused much of it). He gives his vision for Islam and religious interaction that is hopeful.

2. The Evolution Of God by Robert Wright- One may not believe, but one can still find religion and belief in God a wholeheartedly good thing, especially when one believes that the concept of God (whether manmade or coming from on high- he is fine with either) is evolving to a kinder more modern expression. Controversial to those that write religion off and to those that would consider themselves foundationalists, it is compelling and provocative, especially his contention that Paul was a 1st Century Bill Gates building a belief statement out of the needs of people, as opposed to the traditional view.

1. The Case for God: What Religion Really Means by Karen Armstrong- Many find this overreaching and wishy-washy, but I found it refreshing, a historical sweet spirited polemic- if there is such a thing- against the extremes of religion, namely Fundamentalism's ying and its yang, The New Atheism. It is refreshing to read an open minded book that takes God very seriously and makes a case for another way of interpreting religion, modern, yet more rooted in the past than many traditional views.


Haven said...

I still have a problem with Tim Keller's book. Now I will admit, I am predisposed to find fault in apologetics, either christian or new atheist, but if one is going to make an academic argument, it HAS to hold up to academic standards. The poor footnoting and sourcing is so many apologetic books leaves nothing to back up their points, which if I find something I disagree with, I expect to find. Now I will admit, I have degrees in history and law, so I expect well sighted work. Keller's work, like Strobel's falls far short on the academic standards I would expect if someone is submitting work in any other field that is meant to be taken as a credible argument based in ration and reason.

All this being said, I look fraward to checking out some of the other books on this list I haven't read yet, especially armstrong's book, since I find her journey from faith, and back to faith, to be a compelling journey

KingJaymz said...

I, too, thoroughly enjoyed The Unlikely Disciple. If you take who and what Roose is into perspective, it's hard to interpret it as anything but an honest search to understand something of which he (and many of his peers) have little understanding. The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs was also pretty good. It was, alternately, more funny and more poignant, but more heavily muddled by his own worldview.

I'm really curious, now. I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of What God Has Joined Together.

DJ Word said...


I get what you are saying. It is not an academic treatise. but, I don't think it was meant to be. Unlike many of those apologetics that propose to be such, I was happy he was trying to engage in a bit different manner, but it definitely won't work on a a purely academic level. In fact, I don't think one can use traditional academic standards to make arguments about a traditional view of God. It is ends up looking pretty pathetic when one does (see Normal Geisler and those kinda books). It is more of the way Keller talks about God that I enjoy, even if we fall out on different places (I am a bit more Armstrong-like and find hers personally resonant).

King- I too enjoyed Year of Living Biblically (actually I enjoyed it more). I read in in 2008. if I had read it in 2009, it would have been high on my list.

Thanks to both of you.