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“Who had known that he was so well known?”

From The Book of the Dun Cow, the night before the animals’ battle against the great evil:

Chauntecleer began to crow compline, the seventh holy hour of the day. Cool, smooth, restrained, a silken lariat, the Rooster gave his animals, in the darkness, a point of recognition. He covered them with the familiar. He announced his presence. Then he drew them back from the edge. He blessed them right gently, crowing nothing of the battle for tomorrow—but naming every one of them their names. Names, one after the other, with a prayer for the peace of each one: That was compline on this particular night.

Soon the restless animals on every side began to settle down again. Their own names in the Rooster’s mouth had a transfiguring effect:

“Nimbus,” Chauntecleer crowed, “the Lord’s peace is with you.”

And Nimbus the Deer, whose flanks had begun to shiver, who was jerking his head, ready at a crack to leap and flee, Nimbus heard his own name in the mouth of his Lord, and he came to his senses again. Dark was suddenly not so dark anymore. He lay down encouraged—for who had known that he was so well known?

“Pika,” Chauntecleer crowed next, and behold! Nimbus was himself the more encouraged to hear the name; for Hare Pika, whom he could not see, was suddenly with him, a part of his company. Name followed name. Lonely was lost in communion: The company grew as if lights were turning on. And Nimbus the Deer went to sleep.

So it went. All the animals began to believe in sleep again, and the dark camp settled down.




Books Read 2017

 

My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2017. Other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.

 

Five Stars

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. At nearly 900 pages, this Canadian philosopher’s magnum opus is not an easy read. But Taylor helps us make sense of the age we’re living in, and helps Christian leaders understand how to talk to those on the streets (and in the pews) living in this secular age. Several of the books on the rest of this list engage with Taylor’s seminal work.

How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, by James KA Smith. A good introduction before reading Taylor, and a good guide while you’re reading Taylor. Don’t treat it as the Cliff’s Notes summary and skip out on actually reading Taylor, though.

The Still Hour by Austin Phelps. An old book on prayer.

That Hideous Strength, Book Three in the C.S. Lewis science fiction trilogy. I read the series in college, and returned to it in late 2016. I completed the third book in 2017.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. One of the most unusual books I’ve read. I had him sign my copy when he did a reading at Austin’s BookPeople.

Tenth of December, by George Saunders. After Lincoln in the Bardo, I went to his back catalog and found this collection of short stories.

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davidson Hunter. An important voice in the current evangelical re-examination of how to impact the world.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. An important voice in the current evangelical re-examination of how to impact the world–or how to strategically withdraw from it, as the case may be. My review here.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Tim Keller. I read this when it came out in 2016 (my review here), but re-read it after reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Keller references Taylor heavily throughout the book. This may not end up being as popular as his The Reason for God, but I recommend it for Christian leaders trying to figure out how to communicate faith in a secular age.

Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes. Well-written exploration of the author’s fear of death. As an atheist, he’s convinced intellectually that there is nothing beyond his short term on this earth, but it still troubles him. Thus, a double meaning in the title. Smith (referenced in this list above), recommends the book as an excellent example of what Charles Taylor describes as living “cross-pressured,” not completely at ease with one’s metaphysical conclusions. But even if you don’t plan to read Taylor, you should read Barnes. Even better, share the book with a non-believing friend for a good discussion.

The Sword in the Stone (audiobook), by TH White.

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat (audiobook), by Giles Milton.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. How does a physician face dying, and how does a Christian face death? Beautiful.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, by Nabeel Qureshi. Really good account of a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity. I only found Qureshi’s writing in 2017, and he died of cancer as a young man a month after I finished this. You should get it in the audiobook version to more easily follow the Arabic quotes read in Qureshi’s voice.

Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home by Alan Graham. Most Austinites are familiar with Mobile Loaves and Fishes and the Community First Village. Here’s the story behind it. Graham is an excellent example of Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”)

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions by Tim Keller

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. Published posthumously. Entertaining as a Crichton work usually is.

The World to Come by Jim Shepard. A collection of short stories.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. The story of one of the first attempts to sail to the North Pole.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, by Tim Keller. I read it in 2016 but wanted to read through it again in late 2017. Original review here.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candace Millard. A fascinating look at a little-known incident in American history. I will have to look for other books by Millard after reading this one.

Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, by Larry Hurtado. Hurtado explains Christianity’s improbable rise to become the dominant Near Eastern faith as Rome collapsed. And, regarding the divinity of Christ, far from being a late development in Christian history, Hurtado shows how the very earliest Christians regarded Christ as divine.

99 Poems, by Dana Gioia

Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor. Various writers, edited by Collin Hansen. The year began with Charles Taylor, and it ended with this collection of essays by various Christian writers on how to apply Taylor’s observations to life and ministry.

 

Four Stars

Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, by Mark Yarhouse. Absolutely essential reading to understand gender dysphoria. This book would have been higher on the list but I wish he had fleshed out the “Integrity Framework” a little better. (Watch this 12-minute video I posted of Yarhouse explaining the three “frameworks” people use to understand gender dysphoria.)

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear. A quick read from someone who worked in President Obama’s faith-based office and saw the successes and failures.

Hammer is the Prayer: Selected Poems, by Christian Wiman

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America, by Ron Powers

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration.

Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective, by Mark Amstutz. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration. Amstutz was scheduled as a panelist for our Forum but when Hurricane Harvey forced us to reschedule the event, Amstutz couldn’t make it. Too bad: I think his voice is needed in this debate.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (audiobook), by David Grann

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, by David McCullogh. Get it in the audiobook format and let McCullogh read it to you.

There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, by Ali Noorani. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration.

When the English Fall by David Williams. Though Williams very likely didn’t intend this work as fictional engagement with The Benedict Option (mentioned earlier in this list), you could read it as a companion to Dreher’s work. How can we be a faith community for each other and for the outside world when things fall apart?

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas. Get it in the audiobook format so you can hear the original addresses by the various guests to the Socrates in the City program.

Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor. I picked this up in a great used bookstore in Nashville, McKays.

Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters. What if slavery in the American South had never been abolished?

 

Three Stars

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. It’s an unexpectedly–and probably unintentionally–prolife story. I don’t typically read romance novels, but this one was pretty well done. I should probably rank it higher on the list, except for some improbable scenarios. (An old captain remembering the exact location of a notorious incident? A gangster using diving equipment for the first time, in the dark, to return to that notorious incident? The two romantic leads talking with each other in that dark water by putting their diving helmets together? Really?)

Sweet Ruin, poems by Tony Hoagland

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, poems by Tony Hoagland

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller. The New Yorker has an article on the background of the trilogy of novellas here.

Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, Bill Moyers. A transcript of his interviews with several poets.

Madness: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Scull. You should scan through the “Very Short Introduction” series. Intriguing selections. I have Richard Baucham’s Jesus: A Very Short Introduction queued up for 2018.

Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God (audiobook), by Dallas Willard. Willard’s last public event. I find the United Presbyterian philosopher too liberal on some points, but he needs to be included in any discussion on how to deepen Christian discipleship.

Speaking of Faith, by Krista Tippett. You should get it in the audiobook format, since it’s a series of interviews from her NPR show. As to the evangelicals she invites on her show, it’s not surprising that a left-leaning journalist would privilege the types of evangelicals, and the types of evangelical opinions, that she prefers. But if the goal is to better understand each other, readers/listeners would be better served by a fuller presentation of evangelical convictions (especially those positions that liberals wouldn’t like) from those more widely regarded as spokespersons for those convictions.

God and the Transgender Debate, by Andrew T Walker. I mentioned higher on the list that Yarhouse didn’t explain the “Integrity Framework” as well as I had hoped. So, I went looking for a book that did. This one helps.

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip Dick

Engendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, by Sam Andreades.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, by Joshua Hammer

 

Two Stars

11/22/63 by Stephen King. The book is entertaining enough to gain a higher rating. But the gist of the book is that going back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination would have kept us from the tragedy of Vietnam. That’s less believable than time travel.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir, by Bruce Cockburn. I’ve liked a lot of his music over the years. Can I still like his music after being so disappointed by the subject of this autobiography?

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson

Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. It had the potential to explore the hypocrisies of the human heart, but it fell short.

 

Unfinished

Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane. Just could not get a care about the characters to rise up by a third of the book, so I abandoned it.

 

 

Lists from Previous Years

(You can access the “Books Read” lists from 2009-2012, but the links on those page take you to a blog I no longer update.)

Books Read 2009

Books Read 2010

Books Read 2011

Books Read 2012

Books Read 2013

Books Read 2014

Books Read 2015

Books Read 2016




Reaction to “The Benedict Option”: Convicted Yet Cautious

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Reviews of The Benedict Option began even before the book was released in March this year and haven’t let up. Clearly, it’s touched a nerve. Rod Dreher recommends that American Christians plan a strategic withdrawal from American culture. He compares his option to the Benedictine monasteries that were established during the barbarian takeover of the Christianized Roman Empire. Dreher says that just as these monasteries preserved faithful Christianity so it would exist to flourish again at a later time, American Christians need to do the same. American culture has become so toxic that any efforts to regain a position by which we could save it is futile. Our best option, then, is to find ways to preserve faithful Christianity within the new Dark Ages.

My reaction: convicted yet cautious.

His observations about how deeply-compromised American Christianity has become will resonate with biblically-faithful Christians. His advice about forming robust faith is sound, as well as his warnings about the coming negative consequences to vocational ambitions and income among those who try to maintain that robust faith.

Yet I’m cautious about this book. I’m concerned it will accelerate a bunker mentality that’s already prevalent in conservative Christian circles. Congregations can either see themselves as beachheads or bunkers. Beachheads are offensive positions from which to advance into the world; bunkers are defensive positions in which to retreat from the world. Those who want their churches to be bunkers will find comfort in this book. In interviews since the release of the book, Dreher expresses frustration at those who raise this objection to his book. It’s certainly true that throughout his book he insists that the Benedict Option is no call to hide away from the world. But when the futility of effecting any change to our barbarian-dominated culture is as loudly proclaimed as it is in this book, it’s hard to actually hear his few simple caveats that the Benedict Option is not, by the by, about withdrawal.

I think Tom Gilson’s observations about the book are helpful: 

I wish he hadn’t kept describing Christians as “exiles in place.” “Exiles” is the wrong word. We’re much more like expatriates. Exiles’ eyes remain turned toward their homelands, where they hope to return as quickly as possible. Often they make it their mission from a distance to accomplish social and political reform back home. We have no such distant home in need of reforming. Our mission is right where we are. Indeed, there’s another word for Christian expatriate: missionary. Missionaries go out on purpose, sent by God to love the people of their new homelands, and to discover how best to live and share the way of Christ in that cultural context. We don’t need to adopt the self-pitying language of exile. Instead we can embrace the joyful privilege of being missionaries in place. It isn’t just a more positive approach—it’s why God has us here. The Benedict Option needs an Expatriate Alternative.




When Watching “Silence,” Pay Attention to Four Things

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If you missed Silence in theaters, it begins streaming March 14 and is available on DVD March 28. Silence is Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the 1965 Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo about the persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century.

The film is not an easy one to sit through, in part because of the intense scenes of Christian persecution, but also because the main character who carries the story line fails. If you decide to watch the film or read the book, here are four things to pay attention to:

First, pay attention to the heroes at the periphery. The story is told through the experiences of Rodrigues, but his companion, Garupe, takes a very different route. Again, the Japanese church leaders make the noble choice to die rather than give up their priests to the Magistrate.

Second, pay attention to the arrogant ambition that led to failure. Rodrigues’ self-centered ambition led to his failure. He knew there would be personal glory in finding his mentor Ferreira, and glory if he nobly endured persecution. His ambition is masterfully exploited by the Magistrate. His ambition for personal glory left him woefully unprepared for his trials.

Third, pay attention to the re-definition of divine silence. Endo, the author of the popular novel, didn’t want to call it Silence. He was afraid readers would misinterpret the point of the novel and assume it was about God’s indifferent unresponsiveness to human suffering. I’ve read a few reviews of Scorsese’s film that make this assumption. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be sure, in faithfulness to the novel even the cinematography and the soundtrack of the film make silence a prominent feature. But God is hardly silent, even in the silence.

Fourth, pay attention to the repeated return to God’s mercy—and the permission to do so. The despicable/pitiful Kichijiro makes repeated commitments to Christ and his people, only to fail again and again. But each time, he pleads forgiveness and hopes for a new start. Rodrigues, too, can only lean into the same hope for absolution that he offers as a priest to Kichijiro. In fact, by the end the only character who stands outside God’s mercy is Ferreira, and only because the failed priest insists he has no need to seek something he no longer believes in. Kichijiro (whom Endo said he most closely identified with), is often understood as the Judas character, but I’d say Ferreira deserves that assignation more.

If you pay attention to these four things, I think you’ll appreciate this unexpected treasure.




Books Read 2016

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My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2016. By the by, other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.

 

Five Stars

The Son by Philipp Meyer. Well-told tale of 3 generations from central Texas.

Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. The author investigates the answers suggested by philosophers, physicists, mathematicians and artists.

American Rust by Philipp Meyer. After reading “The Son,” I went back to his first book, set in a declining Pennsylvania steel town.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling. I’m re-reading the series.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (audiobook)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (audiobook)

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. From the Young Adult Fiction section, a creative first-person tale about mental illness.

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. Excellent defense of complementarity between genders in the church and home, and how that plays out in society.

The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, by Yuval Levin. My comments here. I agree with Russell Moore: “This might be one of the most important books of the decade.”

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. The four New Testament Gospels are reliable eyewitness testimony. My review here.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. A book about falconry—and grief. (audiobook, read by the author)

Silence by Shusaku Endo. I re-read this in preparation for Scorcese’s new film on the book. My 2006 comments here.

The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. Endo’s Silence was more popular in its time (and today). But I liked this one even better. I re-read it this year after re-reading Silence. My 2007 comments here.

Making Sense of God by Tim Keller. My comments on the book here.

The Road to Character by David Brooks. Looking at character qualities through biographical sketches. (audiobook)

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. I didn’t write a review at my blog, but I agree with this reviewer: “In this searching recollection of his childhood in Appalachia and Rust Belt Ohio, Vance (a Marine Corps veteran and graduate of Yale Law School), describes the stubborn, proud, loyal, and often self-destructive culture that he both loves and was determined to escape. The child of an absent father and a combative, substance-abusing mother, Vance survived thanks to his ornery but devoted grandmother and heroically responsible sister. He trains an unflinching eye on the rural working class: its fatalism, its hypocrisy (“I have known many welfare queens; some were my neighbors and all were white”), and its anti-intellectual machismo. And that same unflinching eye observes the wrenching story of how a kid from that background struggled to adjust to the alien world of the Ivy League. Vance, a conservative, has been criticized for preaching a bootstraps-only remedy for the region’s ills, but Hillbilly Elegy is short on policy recommendations of any kind. Rather, it’s a requiem for an identity that sees no place for itself in a postindustrial world.”

A Peculiar Glory by John Piper. “If saving faith is to be available to all, it must be found in a more direct way than through detailed historical arguments….My question for fifty years has been this: How can average people, with no scholarly training and little time to invest in historical studies, know for sure that the Bible is the reliable word of God in all that it teaches?” (p 182)  Excerpt here.

Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis. I read Lewis’ space trilogy in college. I returned to it at the end of this year. This is the first book in the trilogy. (audiobook)

Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis. The second book in the trilogy. (audiobook)

Hidden Christmas, Tim Keller

 

Four Stars

American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile, Richard John Neuhaus. An excerpt here.

What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes. (audiobook)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (audiobook)

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (audiobook)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (audiobook)

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. A history of cancer research and treatment. (audiobook)

Daily Horoscope. Poems by Dana Gioia

What Narcissism Means to Me. Poems by Tony Hoagland

Simple Weight. Poems by Tania Runyan

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God, by Rankin Wilbourne. “Union with Christ has become a hot topic in academic circles today. But the one place it’s not a hot topic is the one place it most needs to be–in the seats and pews, the homes and offices, the apartments and cubicles of so-called ordinary Christians.”

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (audiobook)

Silence and Beauty by Mako Fujimura. In preparation for Scorcese’s film. My comments here.

Paul’s Intercessory Prayers: The Significance of the Intercessory Prayer Passages in the Letters of Paul, by Gordon P Wiles

 

Three Stars

The Psychopath Test, by Ron Jonson. I’ve liked a lot of his books, and this one had its moments but putting it in the “average” category. (audiobook)

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskins. What we learn is that Vietnam vets are probably murderers, Bible-quoting characters are probably mental cases, and you can crash a car going 70 with no injuries and with no cops a block away hearing it. But the plot develops out in an interesting way. So 3 stars. (audiobook)

You Are What You Love, by James KA Smith. His diagnosis of our problem was accurate, but his recommended course of treatment was unpersuasive. His diagnosis: Human beings are defined by what we desire, not what we know. Thus, it is our *loves* that need reforming, not just our thought processes. And that requires a re-calibration of the heart, which can only happen in addressing what and how we worship. His course of treatment: A return to “the rich imaginative practices of historic Christian worship” (p 180). He regards this as a better way to preserve Christianity than the worship services offered by lowbrow “seeker” churches. His recommended course of treatment would have been more persuasive had he admitted that the very “rich imaginative liturgical practices” he says will restore the American church were themselves no anchor against mainline doctrinal drift. In fact, he fails to acknowledge that “seeker” churches (which he misnames as seeker-sensitive—a common mistake) developed in response to ‘liturgical’ churches failing to impact lost America. Should we evaluate our corporate worship practices to ensure they re-orient Christian hearts to the right love? Yes. Should we adopt the liturgical practices so often associated with mainline churches? Smith failed to persuade me.

Donkey Gospel. Poems by Tony Hoagland

I Am No One, Patrick Flanery. (audiobook)

David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell

 

Two Stars

The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear, by Stuart Stevens.

Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins (audiobook)

 

One Star

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie. I liked his previous Haroun and the Sea of Stories so I hoped to like this one as well. One star.

 


Books Read 2009

Books Read 2010

Books Read 2011

Books Read 2012

Books Read 2013

Books Read 2014

Books Read 2015




About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.
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