Some Books I Enjoyed Reading in 2016
Here is my (last minute) end-of-the-year roundup of a few books I enjoyed this year. For the most part, these are books I fit into the margins of my day (i.e. mornings, evenings, while exercising at the YMCA, while waiting at a coffee shop for a meeting or appointment, etc.).
They’re in no particular order (except for the first one).
This was the first book I read with our first son, Michael Lee Johnson. After six years of reading princess books and fairy novels to our three girls, it was refreshing to read about life in the sandbox. My favorite line, “There’s no end to the great things I would do, if I could drive a dump truck!"
This book is both horrifying and hysterical. From discussing the difference between a lack of knowledge and lack of intelligence to the perks of social capital among wealthy elites, this book was a fascinating read as Vance analyzed America's social crisis among the rural working class.
J.D.’s family is from Kentucky and Ohio, and his description of the culture he grew up in is essential reading for this moment in history.
On the Incarnation by Athanasius
Tragically, too few Christians see the relevance of reading (good) Christian theology. This enduring work was written by one of the great defenders of the Christian faith in the fourth century, Athanasius. Throughout his book he carefully expounds the theological vision defended at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople concerning the Son of God’s hypostatic union. He writes,
[Jesus] appeared to us in a human body for our salvation…he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility…And, in short, the achievements of the Savior, effected by his incarnation, are of such a kind and number that if anyone should wish to expound them he would be like those who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves.
Like Calvin after him, he declares that the sole purpose of Christ’s incarnation was our redemption.
Ed Shaw is a Christian committed to Scripture as well as to the church’s traditional teachings on sexual ethics. He is also a celibate Christian battling with same-sex attraction.
His book is the latest installment in a number of excellent titles pushing Christians to better understand and serve those who experience same-sex attraction (for those interested, see also the respective works of Rosaria Butterfield and Sam Allberry). Throughout the work, he helpfully identifies specific concerns and shows how the Bible calls Christians to meet them in God’s way. His premise is clear: the church must make the biblical commands on sexuality seem plausible again. He does this with a firm grounding in Scripture and without compromise. I’m thankful for this book, and for the courage it took Ed Shaw to write it.
Godric: A Novel by Frederick Buechner
Written in 1981. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Beautifully written.
Buechner tells the life of Godric of Finchale who is converted while traveling through Jerusalem late in life after decades of sinful exploits. He writes,
Be fools for Christ,” said the Apostle Paul, and thus I was thy bearded Saxon fool and clown for sure. Nothing I ever knew before and nothing I have ever come to know from then till now can match the holy mirth and madness of that time. Many’s the sin I’ve clipped to since. Many’s the dark and savage night of doubt. Many’s the prayer I haven’t prayed, the friend I’ve hurt, the kindness left undone. But this I know. The Godric that waded out of the Jordan soaked and dripping wet that day was not the Godric that went wading in.
The London Times Literary Supplement summarizes this work well — “In the extraordinary figure of Godric, both stubborn outsider and true child of God, both worldly and unworldly, Frederick Buechner has found an ideal means of exploring the nature of spirituality. Godric is a living battleground where God fights it out with the world, the Flesh, and the Devil.”
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim & Kathy Keller
Perhaps the best book on marriage my wife, Meghan, and I have read together. The Kellers give a realistic view of marriage while not paving over its attendant difficulties. From deconstructing idealistic views of marriage to discussing singleness as a gift and viable way of life, this book was immensely helpful.
Specifically, we thoroughly enjoyed the exhortation toward cultivating friendship in marriage. A strong marriage is built on the gospel and friendship, not (primarily) sexual attraction. They write:
There is one very important implication of this principle of marriage-as-friendship. If you see your spouse as mainly a sexual partner or a financial partner, you will find that you will need pursuits outside of marriage to really engage your whole soul. In that case, children, parents, career, political or social activism, hobbies, or a network of close friendships—one or more of these things—will capture your imagination, provide joy and meaning, and absorb emotional energy more than your marriage. And that will be deadly. Your marriage will slowly die if your spouse senses that he or she is not the first priority in your life. But only if your spouse is not just your lover and financial partner but your best friend is it possible for your marriage to be your most important and fulfilling relationship.
Whether you are single or married, I highly recommend this book.
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