We’re building an annotated list of reading recommendations from some of our John Wesley Fellows. Happy reading!
Charles E. Gutenson
Author of Church Worth Getting Up For (Abingdon, 2014)
and other books, church consultant, affiliate faculty at Asbury
Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary
Books I find myself returning to over and over:
Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Zondervan, 2010). Wright does an excellent job of providing a holistic, missional theology that reminds us, as followers of Jesus, of the implications of that theology for our day-to-day lives.
William T. Cavanaugh, Theopoliitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time (Bloomsbury, 2003). In this book, Cavanaugh reminds us how easily we are seduced by “alternative visions of soteriology” that too often result in our investing our confidence in systems in many ways at odds with our allegiance to Christ.
A book I finally plan to read:
Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity (Eerdmans, 1986). I’ve read selections and quotations from this book for years, and this summer I plan finally to read it in its entirety.
Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics
The Church of Ireland Theological Institute
Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Doubleday, 1994). In this very readable, yet spiritually challenging book, Nouwen models vulnerable personal engagement with the parable and invites readers to see themselves through the lenses of each of the story’s main figures.
For me sometimes the most effective summer reading is a thoroughly engaging novel that forms compassion in me and raises my awareness about important social issues within our world. It need not be a Christian novel to do this and reflection on a Christian response to such themes as justice, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love in this type of literature has been an engaging practice for me. The next two suggestions fall into that category:
Khaled Housseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead, 2008).
Corban Addison, A Walk Across the Sun (Silveroak, 2013).
Finally, Marjorie J. Thompson, Family the Forming Center: A Vision of the Role of Family in Spiritual Formation (Upper Room, 1998), offers a compelling argument that our homes are the primary place that we learn a life-shaping faith and makes a number of helpful suggestions for shaping a family life with Christ at its heart.
Sarah Conrad Sours
Instructor in Religion
It’s easy to forget, in the midst of intense study of the complexities of philosophical ethics, how everyday folk actually do ethics every day — how they reason (or unreason) their way through the complexities of embodied life. All three of the following consider how particular technologies have shaped the moral landscape in which we all live.
Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America, by Rayna Rapp (Routledge, 2000), is a few years old, but its description of how prenatal diagnosis and termination have changed the experience of childbearing is no less timely. Though the author’s findings do not move her beyond a vague disquiet about her own pro-choice stance, her work offers a profoundly disturbing picture of the connection between prenatal testing and abortion.
Sherry Turkle, in Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (Basic Books, 2012), offers an ethnography of humanity in the digital age, one that is both nuanced and precise. Studying, in turn, human interactions with increasingly complex “sociable robots” (from Tamagotchis to My Real Babies) and with each other via digital media, Turkle describes the philosophical, psychological, and moral gymnastics users perform in light of their experiences with robotic companions and instant communications devices.
Anyone working with or parenting students must read Susan D. Blum’s book, My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Cornell University Press, 2011). Its description of the daily lives of college students, how they perform the moral calculus necessary to manage their college experience, and what they think they’re doing when they cheat, is detailed and charitable. (You can, like I did, scowl disapprovingly when she opines that expecting students to cite their sources and refrain from illegal drinking is unreasonable. But you can also, like I did, hand it to your college-bound children and make them read it.)
Charlie Collier, PhD
Editor, Theology & Ethics
Wipf and Stock Publishers
Stan Goff, Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church (Cascade Books, 2015). Goff, a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant, joins autobiographical reflections to feminist cultural criticism to summon followers of Jesus beyond the pernicious combination of “war-loving and women-hating” that he shows to be so pervasive in our culture. A large book — part fascinating personal narrative, part incisive feminist philosophical exploration — Borderline is a demanding yet rewarding read. It’s also a gift to a church that might yet rediscover how, in Christ Jesus, it has been given — indeed made possible by — a genuine alternative to the long and destructive history of a perversely sanctified and violent masculinity.
Anyone who followed John Wesley Fellow Matthew R. Schlimm’s recommendation last summer and read Susannah Heschel’s Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany should consider continuing the investigation of this dark chapter in Christian history by taking up Paul R. Hinlicky’s Before Auschwitz: What Christian Theology Must Learn from the Rise of Nazism (Cascade Books, 2013). Hinlicky seeks to learn from, but also go beyond, the spate of recent works on Nazism and Christianity by focusing on the theological lessons that must be grappled with if the church is to truly get to the bottom of its own contribution to the rise of Nazi fascism. Hinlicky sees the splintering of liberalism into liberal liberalism, conservative liberalism, and radical liberalism as the result of a breakdown of an older Christian understanding of “beloved community,” and he invites readers into the uncomfortable recognition that this breakdown was part of the Nazi story even as it continues to be part of our own.
Lisa Deam, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps (Cascade Books, 2015). An expert on medieval maps, art, and spirituality, Lisa Deam invites non-specialists into the strange old world of the medieval mapmaker, a world in which theological conviction was as important as geographical precision. Deam opens the treasure chest of medieval maps and draws out several stunning examples for the believing community — the Hereford, Ebstorf, and Psalter maps. With the eye of an art historian and the understanding of a theologian, Deam directs our attention to features of these maps that she knows we need to reclaim — for example, a vision of the whole world and all that is in (and beyond) it in relation to the loving God who created it and redeemed it in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Chapter 8, “Being Reborn,” which reflects on the Ebstorf map through Marguerite d’Oingt’s interpretation of the crucifixion as a pregnant Jesus laboring to give (new) birth to the world, is both breathtaking and an exemplification of the kind of theological vision we need if we are to learn from the dead-ends covered by Goff and Hinlicky.