Compiled by Roy Howard, Outlook book editor
David Bentley Hart
Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn. 365 pages.
Since his ground-breaking 2004 book, “The Beauty of the Infinite,” David Bentley Hart has been called the most original theologian of our time. He has debated atheists with a razor-sharp critique, responded to natural disasters with an original theodicy and now, in this book, he argues for an ecumenical theism. The breadth of his range is remarkable and the depth of theological observations startling. As one critic said, he is liberal, conservative, radical, theological, philosophical and historical all at the same time.
Addison Hodges Hart
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 118 pages.
Hart joins those Christians who discern common ground in the practice of Zen Buddhism and the teachings of Jesus. This is a carefully written introduction drawing upon ten ox-herding pictures of Zen to show how they illuminate the way of Jesus the Good Shepherd. One hears an echo of Thomas Merton.
Westminster John Knox, Louisville, Ky. 334 pages.
Ruth Duck is a prolific hymn writer, a liturgical scholar and teacher of culturally inclusive worship practices. She brings her many talents to bear in this book that covers every area of worship: history, liturgy, cultural awareness, theology and practice. It’s been described as “the most comprehensive introduction to worship for our time.” Put it on the essential shelf for pastors and worship leaders.
Gary A. Anderson
Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn. 222 pages.
Readers beware: this is a groundbreaking book that challenges conventional Reformation wisdom about the place of the poor in Christian theology and practices. Anderson is a careful biblical exegete and historian who argues that in the ancient tradition “the poor are the central portals to the wealth of God’s kingdom. One should not undervalue the literal sense of Matthew 25:31-46 for the early church.” Almsgiving was a vital practice of the early church. This book demonstrates why it is still essential to authentic Christian practice.
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 175 pages.
In his early days as the managing editor of Sojourners magazine to his service as the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, Michaelson has traveled in a wide ecumenical circle. He knows the church. Like Harvey Cox, he has been listening carefully to the non-Western church. This is the fruit of that listening and an invitation for us to learn from emerging Christianity in the non-Western world. Every Christian who wants to understand the present and future of Christianity should read this book.
Anton Wessels (Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff)
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 312 pages.
The problem with the world? Few people want to have serious conversations with those who are different from them. Anton Wessels is a Christian missiologist who offers an alternative to that problem. His strategy is to read the texts of Muslims and Jews carefully and respectfully, in relationship to each other and the Christian text. It’s this way of reading respectfully and relationally that makes his work worth studying. In an intriguing angle, he weaves into his analysis the vision of “two cities” that are illuminated by these sacred texts. Wessles does not avoid the hard questions.
Bethany House, Minneapolis. 189 pages.
The subtitle could be the author’s confession: charity and service have a dark side. He aims to illuminate that dark side in order to prevent the dangers he describes in this book. It is quite possible to lose something deep and precious to God even when doing what is good. It is subtler than it seems. Greer, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Hope International, reminds those who do good what matters the most and how to avoid what undermines the best in each of us.
Stephen C. Meyer
HarperOne, San Francisco. 498 pages.
If Stephen Meyer were not so intelligent it would be easy to ignore this book, thinking it another example of bad science in the service of bad theology. Because he is brilliant, with a doctorate from the University of Cambridge and a distinguished career as a geophysicist before taking up his post at the Center for Science and Culture, his argument is impossible to dismiss unless one simply won’t consider the possibility that Darwin’s theory has flaws and Intelligent Design scientists like Meyer have a reasonable alternative. Meyer builds his argument on the doubt that Darwin expressed about the “Cambrian explosion” and its implications for animal life.
Westminster John Knox, Louisville, Ky. 185 pages.
Paterson is a beloved author who in this collection delivers stories for Christmas that were originally shared on Christmas Eve in worship. One might think they are only sentimental tales, but that would be wrong. Here is found the raw edges of life and humanity that illuminate the shocking good news of the Christmas message. Share it with your children and your congregation.
Peter Traben Haas
Paraclete Press, Brewster, Mass. 294 pages.
This book of prayers for every day of the year provides an entrance into contemplative silence. The author is a Presbyterian pastor, lay associate at St. Melleray Abbey and the founder of ContemplativeChristians.com. He brings a great deal of personal wisdom and experience to the practice of contemplative prayer.
Penguin Books, New York. 176 pages.
This is a brief and informative biography with a provocative interpretation of Darwin, particularly his influence on movements that followed his theories. Johnson brings an historian’s mind to the task of making sense of the man who is arguably more influential than any other in modern history. The dark side of Darwin’s theories explains a great deal about the social horrors of the 20th century. Johnson also shines an illuminating light on the personal family tragedy that deeply wounded Darwin.
Jeanne Choy Tate
Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Ore. 264 pages.
Americans have a profound commitment to individualism. It is in the historical DNA of the country. Consequently, that commitment blinds them to the perils of individualism. Choy, a student of Robert Bellah, brings an alternative view from the perspective of a bilingual and bicultural educator who has experienced the inter-dependent values of Chinese culture. She argues that Americans can learn much from this culture, which is closer to the values of biblical narratives, that will help them navigate the increasing diversity of American communities.
John Sexton, Thomas Oliphant and Peter J. Swartz (Forward by Doris Kerns Goodwin)
Gotham, New York. 256 pages.
The authors argue wonderfully and brilliantly that baseball is about much more than a sport, although they never deny the splendid earthly details of the game. Drawing upon great moments in the history of baseball, they show how the game itself can deepen the experience of life and ultimately be an experience of the divine. Much is based upon a wildly popular college course taught for 25 years. Fans will love this book; non-fans will learn why baseball still has such hold on us.
James S. Lowry (Forward by Robert Brawley)
Cascade Books, Eugene, Ore. 104 pages.
A Southerner who is a Christian who is a pastor equals a great storyteller. It’s all here beautifully, with exegetical depth and theological insight. Lowry selected texts from Mark’s gospel in which the “silences” allow for readers to draw further conclusions. This interpretive strategy brings Mark’s gospel into conversation with the stories of a small southern town and our stories, too. Readers place him in the circle with Garrison Keller and Fred Craddock.
HarperOne, San Francisco. 240 pages.
This is an irreverent book by an acclaimed British writer in defense of Christianity against the current brand of militant atheism. It’s purpose is plainly stated: “this is a book for believers who are tired of being patronized, for non-believers who are curious about how faith can possibly work in the twenty-first century, and for anyone who feels there is something wrong, literalistic, anti-imaginative, and intolerant about the way the case for atheism is now being made.”