I can’t recommend highly enough John Behr’s Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013). It presents short meditations by the dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. We become human, in Christ, by our obedience in saying “Let it be” to our own deaths.
And a second choice for young children: a richly illustrated story, The Monk Who Grew Prayer (Conciliar Press, 2003) by Claire Brandenburg, follows a hermit in the wilderness during his daily tasks. Along the way, children learn the Jesus Prayer and the significance of the Liturgy of the Hours. At once contemplative and engaging, it makes an ideal bedtime story followed by Compline.
Jon Adamson is the administrator of the Diocese of Northern Indiana.
The Little World of Don Camillo (Benediction Books, 2009) is the first of the series of novels by Giovanni Guareschi. Don Camillo opened to me an early sense of the possibility of the presence of Christ; he upholds the Church’s sense of moral authority and pastoral wisdom, while (reluctantly) accommodating the ethical challenge presented by his adversary Peppone, the communist mayor of his village.
Paddle-to-the-Sea (Houghton Mifflin, 1941) by Holling Clancy. Holling touches a deep part of my heart. I’d be cautious about its representation of the indigenous people of North America, but the story is of a carved canoe that — without anthropomorphizing its subject — undergoes adventures, danger, renewal, and ultimately attains its goal.
On a more academic note, Graham Hughes’s Worship as Meaning (Cambridge, 2003) articulates a profound truth about the liturgy and hermeneutics. It’s not easy reading but is exhilarating, and disclosed much that chimed with my intuitions on the subject.
I can’t read Gerhard Lohfink’s Jesus and Community (Fortress, 1984) without humbling admiration for his theological sense of the Bible and his vocation as priest and theologian, and wistful recognition of my own shortcomings in those regards.
The Rev. A.K.M. Adam is senior tutor and teaches New Testament and Greek at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford University.
Georges Titre Ande
I suggest Entrusted with the Gospel: Fan the Flame, edited by D.A. Carson (IVP UK, 2010). God has given every Christian the glorious ministry of his life-giving gospel, but many are timid and lack confidence and wisdom to herald the gospel entrusted to them. Especially amid the difficulty of facing secularism and atheism, this book helps us to be faithful to the task: to have an unashamed courage in preaching and in finishing well.
The Rt. Rev. Georges Titre Ande is Bishop of Aru, Congo.
In Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Coronet, 1930), Lord Peter Wimsey knows at once that Harriet Vane is innocent, but how does he know? The evidence against her seems overwhelming. Is it love? Or is it something else? One can read this novel for its marvelous writing, so rare these days. One can read it as a good detective story. And one can read it as showing us what the virtue of “good sense” (prudentia) looks like: Lord Peter is able to judge characters wisely and well, even when the evidence is slim.
The Rev. Victor Austin is theologian in residence at St. Thomas Church, New York.
I am indebted to my local public library for including M.R. James’s Collected Ghost Stories (Oxford, 2011) among its recent staff picks. James, the son of a priest, was successively provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and Eton, and was also a noted linguist and paleographer whose translation and edition of The New Testament Apocrypha may still adorn the bookshelves of many clergy. As befits a learned biblical scholar and medievalist, his ghost stories often turn on weird events in which historic churches and rare books figure prominently. “The Uncommon Prayer-Book” turns on the theft of an unlikely Cromwellian edition of the Book of Common Prayer, while “An Episode of Cathedral History” gives us the mischief of choirboys, the pitfalls of the Gothic Revival, and a restless and evil spirit entombed within the cathedral church. My favorite for sheer menace may be “The Mezzotint,” in which a photograph reveals a murder from many years before. At the same time as producing goose bumps, the stories are an education in arcane knowledge that will delight anyone with an interest in architecture and texts of all sorts.
The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee.
In Mariette in Ecstasy (HarperCollins, 1991), Ron Hansen (The Assassination of Jesse James) uses sparse yet richly detailed prose to take us into a world foreign to moderns: the cloisters of nuns in upstate New York, circa 1909. There, the new presence of Mariette, a young, passionate, and beautiful postulant, invokes awe, fear, and hatred in her fellow sisters. Hansen, a Roman Catholic deacon and professor of English and creative writing at Santa Clara University, offers a memorable and provocative story about sexual and spiritual desire, the competing claims and authority of science and religion, and the beauty of devotion to Christ amid opposition.
Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of Christianity Today and lives in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
The blind Argentine Jorge Luis Borges was widely known as a poet and writer of magical realism but he was a brilliant essayist as well. Selected Non-Fictions (Penguin, 2000) shows the range of his genius. From a history of angels to a film review of the original King Kong (he hated it) to essays on the tango, the mystical works of Swedenborg, the Dionne quintuplets, and German literature in the age of Bach, his writing is trenchant, sparkling, and original.
The Rt. Rev. Anthony J. Burton is rector of Church of the Incarnation, Dallas.
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) would make an excellent gift for any writer or lover of literature. Written from 1947 to 1948 and discovered among O’Connor’s papers in 2002, this prayer diary gives a deeply personal glimpse into the heart of a young writer and earnest Christian, even as her wit shines through.
Betsy Childs is web and publications editor at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham.
Theology, Rhetoric, Manuduction: Or Reading Scripture Together on the Path to God by Peter M. Candler, Jr. (Eerdmans, 2006), does not have the most gripping of titles, but it brilliantly and succinctly demonstrates how reading Scripture and the Fathers was once a communal act of participation over time. It helped me better to understand how, before we can even think about hermeneutics, we need to consider more deeply our shared modern assumptions about the purpose of texts.
The Rev. Mark F.M. Clavier is dean of residential training at St. Michael’s College, Llandaff, and lecturer in theology at Cardiff University.
Glynn Harrison, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Bristol and a lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England, deftly blends psychology with Christian doctrine in The Big Ego Trip (IVP, 2013). The book traces the rise of the ideology of self-esteem. Harrison shows that the concept is ill defined, and that there is no evidence for the benefits claimed for boosting self-esteem. Instead of focusing inward on our supposed self-worth, Christians should recall that we are counted as worthy by God, and loved and redeemed by him.
Prudence Dailey is chairman of the Prayer Book Society in England and lives in Oxford.
This year, I decided to read some of the classics I said I read in college. The Prince (1532) is currently on my nightstand. Sadly, Machiavelli is as relevant (and as entertaining!) now as in 16th-century Florence.
The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle is dean and president of General Theological Seminary.
R. William Franklin
I highly recommend the novel Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt, 2012). It is the second in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation. This one focuses on the death of Ann Boleyn. Better than any other account I have read, this novel portrays the complexities of forces that make for ecclesial change: faith, theology, love, politics, ambition, money, and class. Reflecting and illumining forces still at work in the Church, the final volume in the series will be titled The Mirror and the Light.
The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin is Bishop of Western New York.
Christian Wiman is a poet with an incurable cancer who, in spite of his modern secular instincts, has found himself incurably drawn to God. In My Bright Abyss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) he offers a collection of vignettes from the penumbra of faith and despair. While Wiman’s faith is lived ever near the shadows of pain and doubt and the struggle to believe, the light of Christ shines throughout this book reminiscent of Frederick Buechner.
The Rev. Matthew Gunter, rector of St. Barnabas Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is Bishop-elect of Fond du Lac.
Jack Leo Iker
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) is must reading for my fellow Civil War buffs. On the 150th anniversary of the epic three-day battle that determined the outcome of the war, Guelzo gives a fascinating and compelling account of the brave men who fought and died there.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker is the Anglican Church in North America’s Bishop of Fort Worth.
For the medievalist sci-fi lover in your life: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (Tor Books, 2006). The end could be stronger, but I often recommend this book to friends and will read it again myself. Anyone who can write seriously about contemporary hard science and 14th-century scholastic philosophy is worth paying attention to, especially when he also tells a good story.
The Rev. Jonathan Kanary is curate at St. Columba Church, Fresno, California.
I discovered Christian Wiman through his essays and poems published in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and then discovered his conversations in Poetry magazine’s podcast. Written in the shadow of cancer, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer is a protracted and intricate meditation on death, faith, imagination, and suffering. Wiman leads the reader into intense anguish, unknowing, and beauty. Itself a theological, poetical, and mystical text, it induces unhurried reading and invites prayer.
The Rev. Cynthia Kittredge is dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest, Austin.
On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis by Louis Markos (Moody, 2012) discusses the classic Christian virtues and uses characters and passages from the writings of two of the Inklings to illustrate them. These chapters, suitable for use as daily meditations, walk the reader through examples of what our lives might look like if we lived by the values we proclaim but often forget in practice. It’s a sort of updated version of Plutarch’s Lives and equally as instructive.
The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely is Bishop of Rhode Island.
Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury (Morehouse, 2013) is Andrew Atherstone’s essential biography of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. Atherstone, who teaches history at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, wrote this tidy introduction at the request of British publisher Darton, Longman and Todd, and without benefit of interviewing the archbishop. The charming paradox of Archbishop Welby’s life: the less ambition he has shown, the more he has ascended.
Douglas LeBlanc, associate editor of TLC, lives near Richmond, Virginia.
Candice Millard’s River of Doubt (Anchor, 2006) tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s journey down the Amazon after his loss in the presidential election of 1912. Destiny of the Republic (2011), also by Millard, is about the assassination of President Garfield, but more so about the state of medicine and medical care during that era. Millard’s prose is very readable and she tells compelling stories with ease.
The Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge is Bishop of West Texas.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The life of America’s greatest theologian proves the perfect fodder for a master historian’s magnum opus in George M. Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2003). A deft storyteller and incisive analyst, Marsden shows how a child of the Enlightenment engaged fully in philosophical debates of his day and became the towering Calvinist intellect behind the First Great Awakening. Readers come to know both Edwards the prolific genius and Edwards the man of deep, heart-changing faith.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a TLC correspondent based in Boston.
I look forward to reading Mission in Christ’s Way: An Orthodox Understanding of Mission by Archbishop Anastasios (Holy Cross Orthodox Press and WCC Publications, 2010). The archbishop’s work on mission has been fruitful for me and our work in Indigenous ministry. His perspective will, I believe and hope, help me get over the disappointment at the speed with which Mission went from cutting edge to cliché. It promises to be a good gift item for anyone who shares my condition.
The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald is the Anglican Church of Canada’s National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.
Letters from Ruby (Abingdon, 2013) by Adam Thomas is a novel about a young Episcopal priest who has much to learn from his congregation as he starts the journey in ministry. As problems arise, the solution comes in the form of Ruby Redding, a lay parishioner packed full of wisdom. Christian fiction at its best, and a lovely way for any member of a congregation to reflect on the challenges of ministry and training. Fun, warm, moving.
The Very Rev. Ian Markham is dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary.
In The Lion’s World (Oxford, 2013), Rowan Williams reflects on The Chronicles of Narnia, probably the best known and most loved books by C.S. Lewis. Admirers of Lewis will welcome this warmly appreciative, but not uncritical, account of his achievement from such a distinguished theologian as Williams, who deals courteously but robustly with some of Lewis’s cultured despisers. Williams draws particular attention to “the sheer psychological penetration of so much of his character drawing” and notes “the possibility Lewis still offers of coming across the Christian story as if for the first time.”
The Rev. David Marshall is director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School and associate professor of the practice of Christian-Muslim relations.
John Kingsley Martin
Most intriguing of my recent purchases is The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford, 2011). It uses the NRSV, with exegetical notes from a Jewish perspective and essays on topics including Jesus, Paul, and aspects of first-century Jewish life. The volume is quick to identify even hints of anti-Semitism. A culture producing someone as remarkable as Jesus, the editors argue, could not have been as moribund as Christians often claim.
John Kingsley Martin is a TLC correspondent based in London.
This is the book I’ve been looking for, I thought as I began reading Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us by Ragan Sutterfield (Cascade, 2013). What struck me most was its emphasis on humanity as part of creation — specifically, that to understand and truly live as God intended we need to embrace the “humus.” We are fashioned from the earth. I gave copies to all our clergy in the diocese.
The Rt. Rev. Steven Miller is Bishop of Milwaukee.
For my favorite niece just finishing college with all the idealistic dreams of a better, more sustainable community life, I would give her for Christmas Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food (Wiley & Sons, 2007). I use it all the time here at the convent. It has taught this city girl how to deal with local produce from turnip greens to high-protein grains like amaranth.
For an ecumenical friend, I would give him Sholem Asch’s Mary (Macdonald, 1951). It is one of my favorite novels on the life of our Lady and her relationship to Jesus. Asch saw the gospel story with devout Jewish eyes, and he had the courage to suffer ostracism from his people because of his conviction that Christians and Jews should be one in faith in post-World War II Europe.
For a ripping good book and wonderful tale of the human spirit that will survive several readings, I would give Robin Buss’s translation of Alexandre Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics, 2003). All the questions of life are touched upon: Where is God? What is love? What is justice? What are mercy and forgiveness? I always come away with a fresh thought.
Mother Miriam, CSM, is superior of St. Mary’s Convent, Greenwich, New York.
I recommend Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron (Zondervan, 2013). A pastor called Chase Falcon loses his faith and has a crisis of vocation amid a busy and successful church ministry. He ends up spending time with his uncle, a Franciscan priest in Italy. Traveling to Assisi, Chase enters into the life of St. Francis, his teaching, and his witness, and is restored to faith in a radically new and open way. The reader is invited to begin a pilgrimage as well. This comes highly recommended by Bishop Rowan Williams, who read it twice!
The Most Rev. David Moxon is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
My copy of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, edited and translated by Benedicta Ward (Cistercian Publications, 1984), is a wreck; dog-eared pages, copious underlines, and a host of marginal notes litter it, testimony to constant reference. If the Egyptian desert was the first great laboratory of Christian spirituality, these are the lab notes. Intense, thought-provoking, relentlessly practical, this collection of pithy sayings will enrich any life of prayer.
Derek Olsen of Baltimore, Maryland, is a blogger, programmer, and writer on liturgical spirituality.
Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House, 2012) is that rare book that will not fade. It haunts its readers, relentlessly pursuing them long after the last page has been devoured. As Julia, the book’s young protagonist, grapples with the collapse of the orderly suburban universe, she (and the reader) are forced to consider the deepest questions of life and its meaning. Part science fiction, part Bildungsroman, this small, stunning novel is a perfect gift for your favorite bookworm.
The Rev. Yejide Peters is rector of All Saints’ Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York.
I commend Disraeli: or The Two Lives (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013) by Douglas Hurd, a distinguished former foreign secretary, and Edward Young. Benjamin Disraeli was arguably the most colorful prime minister of Britain in the 19th century and had significant impact internationally. Born a Jew, he was baptised as a Christian and an Anglican at that. There are more quotations listed by him than by Winston Churchill. He appeared to have little moral purpose and yet achieved remarkable reform. This is a great biography.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten is Bishop of Wakefield.
Anne Somerset’s Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion (Knopf, 2013) appears to be well-researched, building on the good track record of her previous archival work in biography. Since Queen Anne, through her bounty and moral support, had so much to do with establishing a beachhead for Anglicanism on these shores, I’d like to know much more about her than I do.
The Rev. Chip Prehn is headmaster of Trinity School of Midland, Texas.
I rediscovered Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919): intertwined short stories about the inhabitants of a rural Midwest town. Filled with yearning and quirkiness, this fastidiously observed set of character sketches sometimes verges on American Gothic, but then hits you with a kind of steady steely-eyed grasp of what it means to be human, bound by the small formalities of place, family, and internal spirit. Brilliant, and often heart-rending.
The Rev. Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto.
I return time and again to Good Poems for Hard Times, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor (Penguin, 2005), when I need a laugh or a lift, or when prose is too mundane. A favorite is Wedding Poem by Bill Holm, which speaks of the “dark secret of the ones long married.” Meredith Holmes’s In Praise of My Bed serves after a hard day, while Mary Oliver wants to “step through the door” of eternity “full of curiosity” in When Death Comes.
The Rev. Margaret R. Rose is the Episcopal Church’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration and lives in New York City.
For anyone whose Narnia books have collected dust, Rowan Williams’s appreciation, The Lion’s World, invites a new reading. Having cleared aside the critics, he reflects on Lewis’s success in making the Christian worldview appear “fresh and strange.” Williams highlights the silent gaze of Aslan, his “unplanned and uncontrolled incursion” into our world, and the wild joy of liberation — from a stable, winter, underground caves, giants, and so on — as imaginative experience of divine grace.
Grace Sears of Berea, Kentucky, serves on the board of the Living Church Foundation and is a leader of The Order of the Daughters of the King.
Dabney T. Smith
I enjoy reading the biographies of American Presidents and so loved The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Subtitled “Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” it traces the history of this unique subset of American politics from George Washington and John Adams, concentrating on the modern era beginning with Harry Truman. The personalities behind the presidential office emerge in stories that are spellbinding, complex, revelatory, and powerfully real.
The Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith is Bishop of Southwest Florida.
I highly recommend Darwin’s Doubt (HarperOne, 2013) by Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge University Ph.D. This readable book, like its predecessor, Signature in the Cell (2009), not only sheds light on the Intelligent Design debate but also offers a veritable course in the history and methods of science. I have given copies of both books to many friends, who have found them rewarding and enlightening.
The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton is Bishop of Dallas.
Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford, 2011) is a Christmas gift for skeptics. Plantinga, the renowned philosopher, considers evolutionary theory and divine action and shows that alleged conflicts with Christianity are merely superficial. The real conflict is between them and naturalism, which they are thought to support. The book masterfully burns through a great deal of fog and might allow the bright light of Christ to shine into the lives of loved ones this Christmas.
The Very Rev. Justyn Terry is dean and president of Trinity School for Ministry.
While I was writing Life after Death (Eerdmans, 2011), I had cause to re-read Tom Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (SPCK, 2007). I found it sane, readable, and helpful, and recommend it confidently. On the same subject, I recommend Stephen Travis, Christ and the Judgment of God (Paternoster, 2008), and Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (SCM, 1996).
The Rev. Canon A.C. Thiselton, former head of theology at Nottingham University, has served as principal of St. John’s College, Nottingham, and St. John’s College, Durham.
Patrick T. Twomey
Robert F. Capon’s recent death reminded me of my first encounter with his “cookbook” The Supper of the Lamb, an exquisite and literary journey, by way of food, into the deep and endless mystery of God. He begins with an onion, and, in a sense, by never leaving it, thrusts the reader into the wonder of all creation and creation’s God. A jewel. A perfect gift. A “real” theologian. A most excellent onion.
The Rev. Patrick T. Twomey is rector of All Saints Church in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Facing her own imminent death at age 48, brilliant British philosopher and theologian Gillian Rose wrote the courageous and profound memoir Love’s Work: A Reckoning with Life (Schocken Books, 1995), on the way to becoming a Christian and an Anglican at the very end. With formidable literary skill, humor, and insight Rose recounts vulnerable vignettes of friendship, family, and romantic loves to make an argument about loss and its “twin passion” of faith, consoled by reason. Difficult, and extraordinarily beautiful.
Christopher Wells, editor of TLC, lives in Milwaukee.
In The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale, 2013), David Bentley Hart draws on notions of God held by faiths producing philosophical and contemplative schools. He addresses our belligerent but fading celebrity atheists and theorists of mind who try to explain consciousness on materialist bases. From amazed wonder that things exist, reflection leads to God as a self-subsistent source of actuality. The abiding self-presence of consciousness, giving rise to intentional action, is an immense mystery — wholly other from physiological processes. Nature’s hospitality to our quest for moral living contrasts with its utter inability to explain the profligate charity of a saintly soul. Hart treats profound issues in prose both lucid and engaging.
The Rev. Jared Wicks, S.J., is scholar in residence at Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus.
I recommend John Drury’s book on George Herbert, Music at Midnight (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2013). Drury combines a clear and vivid account of the life of this greatest of Anglican poets with close, sympathetic reading of many of his finest poems. The book is scholarly and fresh, finely produced, and accessible to any reader with a little knowledge of English history. It’s a reminder of the immense spiritual and imaginative treasury that exists in our Anglican past — and of how the strength of our tradition has always lain in the sort of fusion between doctrine, creativity, and prayer that Herbert represents.
The Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth is master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge.
In The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton, 2013) Alan Jacobs has given us an ideal primer — historically concise, rhetorically playful, refreshingly readable, and therefore immensely accessible and engaging. Here is a work that can enflame the imagination of the eager catechumen or buttress the knowledge of the rector towards a deeper understanding of the formative cultural, political, and theological currents and heritage of the Book of Common Prayer.
The Rev. Clinton Wilson is curate at St. David of Wales Church, Denton, Texas.