A book that I could give to very few and yet wish that everyone in the Church would read is A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church by professor Ephraim Radner (Baylor, 2012). An erudite and occasionally eccentric work (do theologians normally read “second language acquisition” theory?), the book takes us not just to the heart of the political and spiritual dynamics of division in the Church but to the broken heart of Jesus. Ephraim’s fluid but dense prose requires effort on the part of the reader, but we are rewarded with luminous and moving insights. This book has intensified my own commitment to the Church in its muddled, compromised, and often-blasphemous search for unity.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews is Bishop of Algoma.
In Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (IVP), Os Guinness analyzes the reasons behind the decline of contemporary Western powers. He writes that Christians need a “constructive overarching vision of Christian engagement in today’s advanced modern world, one that is shaped by faith in God and a Christian perspective rather than by current wisdom, and one that can inspire Christians to move out with courage to confront the best and worst that we may encounter.”
The Most Rev. Mouneer Hanna Anis is Archbishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and Primate of the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Jerusalem and Middle East.
One of the most fascinating books I encountered this year is A Spy among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (Crown). Ben MacIntyre notes that “Philby enjoyed deception. Like secrecy, the erotic charge of infidelity can be hard to renounce.” That thrill was baked into him from the start. “Philby tasted the drug of deception as a youth and remained addicted to infidelity for the rest of his life.” In a sense, the book is an extended meditation on integrity.
The Rev. Andrew Archie is rector of the Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Missouri.
John C. Bauerschmidt
Finishing Czesław Miłosz’s New and Collected Poems 1931-2001 this summer was a bittersweet experience: thanksgiving for the poet’s gift coupled with the knowledge that the collection is finite. The Nobel laureate’s career spanned eight decades, and one of his distinguishing marks is his keen historical sense, as well as an abiding interest in the relationship between the universal and the particular, and the possibility of transcendence. Milosz is a man for all seasons.
The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee.
All of us are born into families that bring with them both blessings and curses. How do we forgive our parents, who carry wounds from their own childhoods? This is the question essayist Leslie Leyland Fields asks in Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson). She offers a framework for forgiveness that takes Jesus’ commands seriously and literally, without kowtowing to either self-help or emotionless duty. This is a prime example of practical theology done well.
Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of Christianity Today.
Patrick E. Bright
The Practice of the Presence of God, the classic of Christian devotion from the 17th-century French Carmelite Brother Lawrence, is a small collection of his letters and conversations and his simplicity of thought and expression. Brother Lawrence teaches us that in the most mundane and menial of activities we can dedicate ourselves to God’s love and thus live every moment in an awareness of his presence and grace.
The Rev. Patrick E. Bright is rector of All Souls’ Church, Oklahoma City.
Anthony J. Burton
Kevin Dodge, Wall Street whiz turned theologian, has written Confessions of a Bishop: A Guide to Augustine’s Confessions (Incarnation Classics Press), a lucid and engaging text for parish groups. If you don’t know what tolle lege means, buy a dozen from Incarnation Bookstore [call (214) 522-2815; or Amazon] and invite your friends over to find out. For Christmas giving, you can’t go wrong with Elizabeth I and Her People by Tarnya Cooper with Jane Eade (National Portrait Gallery Publications), a gorgeous companion to last fall’s exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery.
The Rt. Rev. Anthony J. Burton is rector of Church of the Incarnation, Dallas.
John C. Cavadini
Here are two suggestions, both of them classics, each in their own way: Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (Cistercian Publications, 1987) by Benedicta Ward, SLG; and Hilda Graef’s Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, originally published in 1963 (part 1) and 1965 (part 2), but now reissued by Ave Maria Press (2009) with a new chapter covering Vatican II and beyond. The former contains some of the most beautiful stories from the Desert Christians, in particular the Life of Mary of Egypt, read in Eastern churches at the Office of Readings on the Thursday of the fifth week of Lent. Ward’s introductions are priceless. The latter book, especially appropriate for Christmas, is a scholarly classic accessible to everyone, a study of Mary through the centuries with a Catholic heart and an ecumenical sensitivity, now updated with a new chapter. Both are available in paperback.
John C. Cavadini is professor of theology and director of the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
Martin Luther’s Christmas Book (Augsburg, 1997) contains the story told by the great theologian of the Incarnation to children in his Wittenberg congregation. Also excellent for Christmas gift-giving: Johnny Cornflakes: Learning to Love the Unloved by my wife, Denise (Christian Focus Publishers). It is based on a true story from our days when I was a student at Harvard and we were serving in a small inner-city church. A beautiful, heart-warming account of God’s love in action in an unlikely place.
Timothy George is dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham.
Devotees of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien will be delighted by George MacDonald’s Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (Paternoster, 2008), the romance that inspired many of the Inklings. Phantastes is admittedly from the Victorian fringe, but it is a necessary baptism into the allegorical imagination. It is a tale also of the transformative power of stories, of their ability to heal and renew us and to act as a mirror for truth, however dimly viewed.
Zachary Guiliano is a doctoral candidate in medieval history at St. John’s College (University of Cambridge) and editor of TLC’s weblog, Covenant.
Matthew A. Gunter
Scott Cairns is a poet and a convert to Orthodoxy. His Compass of Affection is a collection of faith-shaped poetry that expresses refreshing depth, breadth, and honesty. In Love’s Immensity, Cairns adapts the words of Christian mystics from St. Paul to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In doing so, he reminds us that “the words of the mystics sacramentally partake of the Word Himself, and as such are inexhaustible, generative powers.”
The Rt. Rev. Matthew A. Gunter is Bishop of Fond du Lac.
Part eerily spiritual medieval thriller, part unsentimental romance, part diagnostic goad to spiritual self-examination, Sigrid Undset’s epic trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter was the best fiction I read this year. Undset, who won the Nobel Prize in 1928, tells the story of a whole Christian life: from her Norwegian heroine’s pious girlhood through her stormy marriage and season of motherhood to her latter years in a time of cultural upheaval. Be sure to read the newer translation by Tiina Nunnally, and be prepared for late-night page-turning.
Wesley Hill is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
I recommend Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace? (Zondervan, 1997) to all Anglicans. “Some Christians I know have taken on the task of ‘moral exterminators’ for the evil-infested society around them,” Yancey writes. “Jesus never countenanced evil, but he did stand ready to forgive it. Somehow, he gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing today.”
The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon is Bishop of Kaduna, Nigeria, and former Archbishop of Kaduna Province.
John Behr’s Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013) makes a beautiful gift in the fullest sense of that word. This small hardback by the dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary is presented in a contemplative manner, and its meditation on what Behr calls God’s “lengthy project to create human beings” is profound and profoundly moving. It’s perfect for all who desire to attend to their spiritual life, and to meditate on how Christ’s end helps us understand who we are and who we are called to become.
Andrew Irving is assistant professor of Church history at General Theological Seminary.
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal (Vintage, 2011) is the true story of a European family told from the perspective of 264 Japanese netsuke — small wood and ivory carvings. From Odessa to Paris, from Vienna to Tokyo, through the fall of empires and the rise of Nazism, the author tells of his own family’s journey of adaptation and survival through a period of remarkable change. It’s beautifully written by a genuine storyteller and a treasure you won’t want to put down.
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon is Bishop-elect of Limerick.
Timothy E. Kimbrough
For those who have given themselves to the understanding of Prosper of Aquitaine’s maxim on prayer/belief, The Lyrical Theology of Charles Wesley: A Reader by S.T. Kimbrough, Jr. (Cascade, 2011), will amplify the role of Christian hymn as the embodiment of the sung Faith. The first five chapters present lyrical theology as a category for study and appreciation, suggesting lex cantandi lex credendi. The remainder of the book is devoted to an anthology of Charles Wesley’s hymns, organized under broad creedal and eschatological headings.
The Very Rev. Timothy E. Kimbrough is dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.
Elisabeth Rain Kincaid
In Letters from Father Christmas, a collection J.R.R. Tolkien wrote for his children, readers explore the delightful and whimsical North Pole. The beautifully illustrated letters tell the saga of Father Christmas, his polar bear helper, and their adventures with reindeer, goblins, and elves. Some of my favorite childhood Christmas memories involve my father reading these letters to our family. This would be an ideal gift for those of any age who retain childlike wonder at Christmas.
Elisabeth Rain Kincaid is a doctoral student in moral theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge
Someone by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) is narrated by Marie, recounting her life in Brooklyn between the wars, centering in her childhood neighborhood, and tracing the stories of her parents and friends. Every sentence is luminous. Realism and reverence for life and death suffuse the story. When I finished it, I turned to the beginning and read it through again.
The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge is dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.
I return often to Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade: Obituaries and Appreciations (Stockade Books, 2006). Steyn, a busy pundit, writes obituaries on the side. His wide range includes Ray Charles, Katharine Graham, Evel Knievel, Eugene McCarthy, Arthur Miller, and Karol Wojtyła; this year’s ebook adds a few fresher items. He mentions the dead’s rough edges, sometimes roughly, but also with disarming humor.
Douglas LeBlanc is associate editor of The Living Church.
Jeffrey D. Lee
Scott Stoner’s Your Living Compass (Morehouse) is essentially an outline for a personal retreat. The focus of the retreat is wellness, wholeness; you might even say holiness. In a format useful for individuals or small groups, Scott invites readers to pay attention to their lives and the abundant life God wants to give us.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee is Bishop of Chicago.
Richard Geoffrey Leggett
I read The Velveteen Rabbit for the first time in seminary, as I was babysitting the children of a faculty member. What intrigued me about the story was its focus on the challenge of becoming “real,” which I believe is at the center of Christian spiritual practice. The key, as the story goes, is “being loved.” So many people today, young and old, do not believe they are loved, but the gospel tells us that we are. That gospel is present in this wonderful story for all ages.
The Rev. Richard Geoffrey Leggett is editor in chief of Anglican Theological Review.
Russell Levenson, Jr.
An Untraditional Collection of Lessons and Carols for the Advent and Christmas Season includes a collection of hymns, carols, and lessons from my congregation. This CD is a reflection and gift to the listener and not a replacement for a traditional Advent service. The 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, and award-winning actor Sam Waterston read the lessons. The recording also features our 4,600-rank Gloria Dei Organ and 106-voice choir. [Call St. Martin’s Bookstore & Gift Shoppe; (713) 985-3840.]
The Rev. Russell Levenson, Jr., is rector of St. Martin’s Church, Houston.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Stockpiling riches and creature comforts might be as American as apple pie, but that’s not what Jesus had in mind for his followers. In Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Multnomah, 2010), David Platt persuasively argues for U.S. Christians to follow a costlier, spiritually richer way. It’s refreshing, inspiring reading for American adults and teens who intuitively know Christian coziness with consumerism to be a sham and yearn to be disciples with integrity.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a TLC correspondent and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2012) is one of the few books that has reduced me to tears. Human life in all its raggedness and brokenness, yet underpinned by tragic routine, is taken on a remarkable journey. God and grace are never named but found everywhere. A man facing the hurt and pain of his retirement starts walking to reach a friend who has cancer. It is a truly great novel.
The Very Rev. Ian Markham is dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Jesse Zink has written an engaging account in Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity (Morehouse). Especially in Africa he frequently faced a barrage of questions about the policies of his own province, but he clearly handled these conversations with grace and wisdom, developing trusting friendships that are an encouragement in difficult times for the Communion and a model for how Christians might seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
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.
Richard J. Mouw
I knew nothing about Hannah More before reading Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson) by Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor. More was acclaimed as a talented poet and playwright in 19th-century Great Britain, but she put it all on the line in fighting for the abolition of slavery, out of her deep commitment to the gospel. She is now one of my heroines in the faith.
Richard J. Mouw is professor of faith and public life at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey (SPCK, 2008) is for thoughtful Christians who want to deepen their experience of Luke’s parables and draw close to the real mind of Jesus of Nazareth. The book is a thorough literary and cultural analysis of Jesus’ words, informed by the Aramaic-speaking peoples of the Middle East. Kenneth has lived with them, studied with them, and been transformed by them. A must for the serious reader of the New Testament.
The Most Rev. David Moxon is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
I have recently discovered the mystery novels of the Canadian author Louise Penny. They feature Inspector Gamache, who is assigned to homicide duties in Quebec and who brings an unusually humane sensibility to his tasks. The plots — along with the portrayals of the inspector, his colleagues, and suspects — push toward human understanding, empathy, and even love. Bury Your Dead (Little, Brown, 2010), with three intricately interwoven narratives and what looks like a providential intervention, might be a good place to start.
Mark Noll is the author of From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story (Baker).
God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006) won the Michael Ramsey Prize in 2007 and certainly deserved it, because Sam Wells reflects Ramsey’s thought in this book. His argument is that God gives us everything that we need to be his friends and to worship him. Because God is abundant, we can live in an abundant manner, even in the midst of a world that sees scarcity all around it. Life is a gift and it’s good to remind ourselves of that — and of our own giftedness.
The Rev. Steven A. Peay is Nashotah House Theological Seminary’s dean for academic affairs and professor of homiletics and Church history. He will become its dean and president in May.
Between 1868 and 1914 the English magazine Vanity Fair published 2,362 full-page coloured caricatures of prominent figures, each with a short biographical commentary (some kind, some caustic). In Victorian Worthies (Darton, Longman and Todd) Malcolm Johnson presents 50 that are of ecclesiastical interest: 30 clergy, plus monarchs, politicians, and other laypeople — most of them Anglicans. To the cartoon and commentary he adds a biographical pen-portrait, making about four pages for each: ideal bedtime reading.
Colin Podmore is the director of Forward in Faith (UK).
For people who are tired of obnoxiously serious and sentimental Christmas books, try Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes (R.H. Russell, 1902). These little poems, including many gems, not only enjoy wonderful wordplay, but are cheerfully vicious to boot, as only the upper-class English can be. “In the drinking well / (which the plumber built her) / Aunt Eliza fell,— / We must buy a filter.” Of course, read them as iconic spurs to a better spirit!
The Rev. Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.
I recommend the wonderful Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission: Gathering as God’s People, Going Out in God’s Name (Eerdmans) by Ruth A. Meyers, dean of academic affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
The Very Rev. Mark Richardson is dean and president of Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
Fredrick A. Robinson
Alison Weir’s Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World (Vintage, 2013) contains much useful information, as well as some fairly arcane bits of trivia. Did you know that there is “an old tradition, probably apocryphal, that the image of the Queen of Hearts in a pack of playing cards represents Elizabeth of York”? Weir’s scholarly portrait of this remarkable, influential, and pious woman is must reading for any serious student of English history.
The Very Rev. Fredrick A. Robinson is rector of Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida.
During my sabbatical in Mexico last summer, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad) by Gabriel García Márquez, the great Colombian novelist who died in April. The story chronicles several generations of the Buendía family in the fictional village of Macondo who are dysfunctional, profound, magical, spiritual, contemptible, yet full of passion and life. While García Márquez described the novel as somewhat of a joke, it is truly transformational and a masterpiece.
Donald V. Romanik is president of the Episcopal Church Foundation.
An Irish-Greek wanderer who ended up teaching English literature in Japan, Lafcadio Hearn spent the 1870s and 1880s in the United States and the Caribbean writing newspaper pieces, short fiction, and accounts of local life. He had an eye for the exotic and a writing style that matched his content. His American Writings (Library of America, 2009) is not to be read straight through, but is wonderful to dip into when one feels a need for a slight tilt off balance.
Michael Root is ordinary professor of systematic theology and director of the historical/systematic theology area at Catholic University of America.
James Thurber’s gothic fairy tale, The 13 Clocks (Simon & Schuster, 1950), begs to be read aloud. Thurber’s classic has a terrifying villain, yet his threats provoke laughter with invented words: the dreadful Todal “gleeps,” while jewels turn to “thlup.” Existential questions glimmer throughout: why do jewels of sorrow endure, while jewels of laughter melt? Why is the good wizard so undependable? Golux tells the prince, “Remember laughter. You’ll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After.”
Grace Sears is a longtime leader of Daughters of the King and a TLC board member.
R. Leigh Spruill
Hapax: Poems by A.E. Stallings (Triquarterly Books, 2006) is elegantly satisfying for those whose taste in poetry tends toward more traditional forms. A native of Athens, Georgia, Stallings now lives in Athens, Greece. Her scholarship in ancient mythology and obvious familiarity with the Christian tradition inform many of her poems, often dealing with questions about life and death aroused from attentive watchfulness of the ordinary (“lives accrue with interest, the smallest things we do”). Deep, beautiful, and accessible.
The Rev. R. Leigh Spruill is rector of St. George’s Church in Nashville.
I recommend Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Wiley, 2011) almost weekly to people who are looking for a profound guide to spiritual growth. For Rohr, a priest in the Franciscan order, the key to resiliency and spiritual maturity is learning to accept loss and disappointment as an opportunity for growth. You can read this book in a couple of days, but you will spend the rest of your life integrating and applying Rohr’s wisdom.
The Rev. Scott Stoner is the creator of Living Compass and director of the Nicholas Center in the Diocese of Chicago.
Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Vintage, 2012) is as untheological as a book can be. Mann shows how the “Columbian exchange” dramatically changed the world. After the exchange, malarial plantations need African slaves with resistant antibodies, Europeans have the calories to launch an industrial revolution, and all the world can waste its disposable income on sugar, chocolate, and tobacco. The book is a riveting story of contingency, corruption, and global interdependence: grist for the theological mill after all.
The Very Rev. George Sumner is principal and Helliwell Professor of World Mission at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.
Anyone confused by the late modern world may welcome James K.A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Relativism? Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood (Baker Academic) as a Christmas gift. Smith lays out some of the main issues of relativism with clarity and grace, making contemporary philosophy accessible to non-philosophers without oversimplifying it. He concludes with an intriguing epilogue on “How to be a conservative relativist,” which is a great summary of his argument. This is refreshing reading for this season of joy.
The Very Rev. Justyn Terry is dean and president of Trinity School for Ministry.
In Ordinary Grace (Thorndike Press, 2013), William Kent Krueger’s writing is beautiful, his characters well-formed and believable, and the story line captivating. Best of all, Krueger conveys the real tensions that arise when vengeance and grace vie for privilege of place in human hearts and actions. There is nothing ordinary about grace, and wherever it is bestowed it is squandered — sometimes making rather small things enormous and miraculous, sometimes healing the deepest of wounds. The reader will not be disappointed.
The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick is Bishop of Indianapolis.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97) joined her three older sisters at the local Carmelite convent at age 15 and died of tuberculosis at 24. Her charmingly accessible Story of a Soul, written under obedience on her deathbed and published posthumously, recounts the gradual renunciation of her childhood selfishness in favor of a most practical and simple, sacrificial love. All of the counsels of perfection are set forth and pursued in scriptural terms with God to the fore. Meet this inspiring Doctor of the Church and share her with others!
Christopher Wells is editor of TLC and executive director of the Living Church Foundation.
I would like to nominate Silence: A User’s Guide by Maggie Ross (Wipf and Stock, 2013). It is full of learning but always comes back to the central questions of how we open ourselves to the unutterable God — and how we find great quantities of ingenious ways to stop ourselves doing this. This book is soaked in the tradition of Christian teaching but constantly critical and fresh.
The Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams is master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University.
William Willoughby III
At the top of my list for every visit to Rome is at least one pilgrimage to a work by Caravaggio. Michelangelo da Caravaggio by Felix Witting and M.L. Patrizi (Parkstone International, 2012) does an excellent job of introducing his work without overwhelming the reader with its breadth. It also explores the tension between Caravaggio’s pursuit of tender and realistic portrayals of important religious iconography and the violent reality of his life.
The Very Rev. William Willoughby III is dean of Savannah, Georgia.