Nate Loucks

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The Future of Christianity: Part 1

The world is changing. It should come as no surprise. The world and the people that inhabit it always change. You are different than your grandparents. They were different than theirs. While someone looks back at their past idyllic self and circumstances from yesteryear, there's another person that when yesteryear was present thought, "If only we can return back to the good old days." While each progressing generation has their struggles and injustices to confront, there should also be sufficient reason to celebrate the advances that have happened over the last many years. Medical science is improving. Racial relations, in American and many other places, is improving. Equality for women has made drastic progress. There is evidence that shows many countries are making significant economic gains proving that poor countries do not have to stay poor. This includes Chile, Turkey, Malaysia, and Gabon, among others. There are many tragedies happening in this world, but there are other achievements and advances which cause us to celebrate as well.

But, what about the future progress of the Church? Is there sufficient cause to lament the future of Christ's covenant community in this world? Is there cause to be hopeful? Harvey Cox, retired Harvard Divinity professor, theologian and scholar, has accumulated much research to shed light on the trajectory of the Church in America. For some, it will be reason to celebrate. For others, there may be sufficient cause for sorrow. 

Cox's book The Future of Faith seeks to address this question: What does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular? It's a book that leverages bits of sociology and theology. Through the first few chapters, I am trying to determine if it's accurate and prophetic or misguided. My hope, should I feel the proper motivation, is to blog through some of the highlights of this fascinating book. The leadership at State Street has had ongoing conversations about the future of faith and how it effects the way in which we minister in LaPorte. 

CHAPTER ONE: An Age of the Spirit: the Sacred in the Secular?

Cox begins the book by noting three qualities that mark the world's current spiritual profile that will effect how religion will be practiced in future generations. It's important to note that Cox is not suggesting that these things NEED to happen, but have ALREADY happened. These qualities are:

  1. The unanticipated resurgence of religion in both public and private life around the globe. It's important to note that Cox isn't suggesting that there's a resurgence of a particular form of Christianity, but religious values as a whole. It's the recognition, that for whatever reason, there is something more than the self. It doesn't look much like the religiousness of the last thousand years in the Western world, but there are still theological, ontological, and philosophical commitments being made. This resurgence comes at a surprise to many. He states,
    "Scholars of religion refer to the current metamorphosis in religiousness with phrases like the “move to horizontal transcendence” or the “turn to the immanent.” But it would be more accurate to think of it as the rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within the secular. More people seem to recognize that it is our everyday world, not some other one, that, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” The advance of science has increased the sense of awe we feel at the immense scale of the universe or the complexity of the human eye. People turn to religion more for support in their efforts to live in this world and make it better, and less to prepare for the next. The pragmatic and experiential elements of faith as a way of life are displacing the previous emphasis on institutions and beliefs."
  2. Fundamentalism is dying. Fundamentalism, as a religious and political movement, is coming to an end. It may take a generation or three, but it is dying out. This is why religious fundamentalists [Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise] are digging in their heals and fighting with such fierce zealousness. To protect their neatly packaged beliefs, fundamentalists feel they have to fight ideologically [or in some parts of the world, militarily] with those who will threaten the shell of the facade. Cox notes,
    "Fundamentalisms, with their insistence on obligatory belief systems, their nostalgia for a mythical uncorrupted past, their claims to an exclusive grasp on truth, and—sometimes— their propensity for violence, are turning out to be rearguard attempts to stem a more sweeping tidal change."
    In my conversations with the emerging generation [which I may be a member myself], truth is very important. Many falsely believe that members in these developing generations do not believe in absolutes in morality and ethics, but that is largely not the case. They do, however, have a harder time admitting that they believe everything absolutely. "There are absolutes," they might say, "but I don't know if my perception of truth is absolute." This is not relativism, as some may claim. It is ideological humility. It is true, however, that the umbrella of what is and is not absolute may be much different among emerging generations than the generations before them. 
  3. A profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness. Cox suggests that this might be the most important in understanding this paradigm shift. What does it mean to be "religious"? He comments,
    "Not only has religion reemerged as an influential dimension of twenty-first-century life; what it means to be “religious” is shifting significantly from what it meant as little as a half century ago. Since religions interact with each other in a global culture, this tremor is shaking virtually all of them, but it is especially evident in Christianity, which in the past fifty years has entered into its most momentous transformation since its transition in the fourth century CE from what had begun as a tiny Jewish sect into the religious ideology of the Roman Empire."
    He goes on to dissect the important difference between belief and faith. Faith is deep-seeded confidence. Beliefs are more like opinions. In Cox's words:
    "Beliefs can be held lightly or with emotional intensity, but they are more propositional than existential. We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live. Of course people sometimes confuse faith with beliefs, but it will be hard to comprehend the tectonic shift in Christianity today unless we understand the distinction between the two."
    Christianity has done well at forming our beliefs into concise and treasured pillars through the historic creeds. However, these beliefs are not what has made the Christian community thrive throughout the last 2000 years [nor was that ever their intention.] The creeds have given a sense of form to an already-demonstrated conviction through faith. Cox suggests a needed paradigm shift. 
    "Eliminating the spurious use of “belief” to define Christianity has another advantage. It recognizes that often people who call themselves “unbelievers” have episodic doubts about their unbelief . “Believers” go through similar swings. Beliefs come and go, change, fade, and mature . The pattern of beliefs one holds at ten are not identical with the ones one holds at fifty or seventy-five. To focus the Christian life on belief rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by the theologians who taught that “faith” consisted in dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds they have spun out. But it does not."
    To profess something as true is entirely different than living as said proposition is true. Hypocrisy happens when our confession do not match up with our convictions. Modern apologetics has taken a hit partly because of this phenomena. One of the larger growth movements within American Christianity is that of Eastern Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is caused by the Orthodox's adherence and valuing of awe, wonder, and love in light of the more binary view of faith that apologetics often professes. 

Cox finishes the first chapter by discussing three [uneven] periods or ages within the history of the church. 

  1. The Age of Faith [first 350 years of the Church]: In Cox's words: "It began with Jesus and his immediate disciples when a buoyant faith propelled the movement he initiated. During this first period of both explosive growth and brutal persecution, their sharing in the living Spirit of Christ united Christians with each other, and “faith” meant hope and assurance in the dawning of a new era of freedom, healing, and compassion that Jesus had demonstrated. To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun." As this initial group of Christ-followers evolved, the initial tension between faith and belief became apparent. "Emphasis on belief began to grow when these primitive instruction kits thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him."
  2. The Age of Belief. [350AD - modern era]: "The turning point came when Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 387 CE) made his adroit decision to commandeer Christianity to bolster his ambitions for the empire." The empire became "Christian," or perhaps Christianity took on the narrative of the empire. Right beliefs in line with the newly minted Christian empire become essential. In 385 AD, a synod of bishops condemned Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. The ones behind beheaded just 300 years earlier were the ones now doing the beheading. Power struggles, political influence, and religious persecution of those within the ranks became common. Cox summarizes, "The Age of Belief lasted roughly fifteen hundred years, ebbing in fits and starts with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the secularization of Europe, and the anticolonial upheavals of the twentieth century. It was already comatose when the European Union chiseled the epitaph on its tombstone in 2005 by declining to mention the word “Christian” in its constitution."

  3. The Age of the Spirit. [Moving forward...]: Cox suggests that we are now entering a new age of Christianity and, perhaps for the first time, one that is not defined by the experience of those in the West.  "Despite dire forecasts of its decline, Christianity is growing faster than it ever has before, but mainly outside the West and in movements that accent spiritual experience, discipleship, and hope; pay scant attention to creeds; and flourish without hierarchies. We are now witnessing the beginning of a “post-Constantinian era.” Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of the second phase (the Age of Belief) and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined." He contends that, in the Age of the Spirit, people will be more influenced by the experiential elements of Christianity more than the doctrinal elements of the religion. 

Cox concludes the first chapter with this paragraph: 

As Christianity moves awkwardly but irreversibly into a new phase in its history, those who are pushing into this frontier often look to the earliest period, the Age of Faith, rather than the intervening one, the Age of Belief, for inspiration and guidance. This should not be surprising. There are striking similarities between the first and the emerging third age. Creeds did not exist then; they are fading in importance now. Hierarchies had not yet appeared then; they are wobbling today. Faith as a way of life or a guiding compass has once again begun, as it did then, to identify what it means to be Christian. The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it. No wonder the atmosphere in the burgeoning Christian congregations of Asia and Africa feels more like that of first-century Corinth or Ephesus than it does like that of the Rome or Paris of a thousand years later.

NEXT CHAPTER
Einstein’s Snuffed-Out Candles: Awe, Wonder, and Faith

My Favorites of 2013

For those curious about what helped form and move me in 2013, here is a list of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy!

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SONGS

It was a really good year for music. Highly anticipated albums from Josh Ritter, Arcade Fire, Shad, Typhoon, and Volcano Choir (Justin Vernon's side project) were released. Some new artists emerged on to the scene as well. Among my favorites are the Olms, the Lone Bellow, Jake Bugg, and Air Review. I've tried to limit my choices to no more than ten when applicable.

Favorite Songs of 2013

  1. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent [link]
    "Yeah then I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing..."
  2. Weight by Mikal Cronin [link]
    "No, be bolder, golden light for miles, sing for love in colder portions of my mind, I'm not ready for the weight again..."
  3. Artificial Light by Typhoon [link]
    "But I have no other place to keep you safe, but in my shaky ever shaking melody..."
  4. Love Don't Go by the Family Crest [link]
    "Oh, old love, you wanna step outside, find a place to run and hide?"
  5. Broken by Jake Bugg [link]
    "I'm waiting for you for I'm broken down..."
  6. Light by Sleeping at Last [link]
    "I’ll give you everything I have. I’ll teach you everything I know. I promise I’ll do better."
  7. Ithaca by Tyler Lyle [link]
    "In a beautiful dream you were walking. In the city by the sea and you wanted me like I wanted you I wish that were true..."
  8. America's Son by Air Review [link]
    "Would the poor be on my mind? Would the wretchedness I try to hide carry me away, would I be saved?"
  9. My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me by Little Green Cars [link]
    "So long you're gone just like I always knew but I'm still here waiting for you..."
  10. The Mute by Radical Face [link]
    "And through them days I was a ghost atop my chair. My dad considered me a cross he had to bear and in my head I'd sing apologies and stare..."

To listen to the rest of my favorite songs from 2013, click on this Spotify list. There are many, many more songs that I've enjoyed this year.

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ALBUMS

My favorite songs often differ from my favorite albums, though some collaboration may exist. There are some albums that I really enjoy from start-to-finish but don't really have a stand-out track on them. Yet, it's still one of my favorite albums. Conversely, there are some songs that locate themselves on albums that are just terrible. If not for one great song, the album would be terrible. So, the following is a list of my favorite albums of the year [in order]:

  1. Typhoon: White Lighter
    Typhoon is an indie symphony of terrific melodies, dynamic instrumentation, and aggressively cynical yet hopeful lyrics. And I love everything about it. This may be my favorite album of the last five years even. I was able to see Typhoon in Chicago in September and they were equally great in concert.
  2. Volcano Choir: Repave
    I'm a big fan of Justin Vernon. Not only is an accomplished front man and songwriter of Bon Iver, he's also a pretty great producer. He produced one of my favorite albums of last year; Kathleen Edwards' Voyageur. While the similarities to Bon Iver are fairly labeled against Volcano Choir, it's no doubt that through a few listens that this is something different. It's indie rock at its finest. 
  3. Radical Face: The Family Tree: The Branches
    I first fell in love with Radical Face after the 2007 release of "Ghosts." I love Ben Cooper's voice, his percussive use of instruments, and the poetry he weaves throughout his songs. Beautiful and lovely stuff. 
  4. Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In
    This album harkens back to the wonderful country and western singers that predates my time. Rose is like a more talented Zooey Deschanel [don't shoot me, oh violent She & Him'ers, because it's true.] I'm surprised at how under-the-radar that she's stayed, especially since this is her second great album.
  5. Hey Marseilles: Lines We Trace
    It's a band composed of a gentle and subdued vocals, an often prominent accordion player, and flowing violin and cello parts, among other things. You can tell that the band isn't just influenced by modern indie rock, but classically trained musicians that light up other worlds known to modern listeners. This all results in songs of depth in an increasingly shallow indie-rock world. 
  6. Josh Ritter: The Beasts in the Track
    I'm a big Josh Ritter fan. His music has been foundational to my emotional development over the years. Perhaps I'm being a bit too overdramatic, but still. He's been a constant in my headphones for quite some time. He's one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the modern generation. He writes of love, loss, war, peace, and everything in between. He's worth a listen.
  7. Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
    I'm in love with 50's and 60's rock and roll. If you've got to the 70's and 80's, then you've went too far for me. Jake Bugg was 17 or 18 years old when he recorded his self-titled debut album. Yet, his vocals, song structures, and lyrics are reminders of the great songwriters from your grandparents age. Hipster-warning: This album is probably best listened to on vinyl.
  8. Keaton Henson: Birthdays
    Henson is reportedly a slightly reclusive sufferer of stage fright. Most of his performances are in small art galleries, clubs, and/or museums. He sings in a falsetto in many of his folk-rock songs, yet it comes together in beautiful ways. His music is fragile and delicate, but stands strong in the face of whatever he's writing against... love lost, painful pondering, and lies being told. 
  9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
    The National's albums are meant to be dissected. They are meant to be enjoyed all the way through, from the first beat to the last lyric. When I was first listening to their latest album, I liked some of the songs but nothing really jumped out at me. Admittedly, I have a very high standard for one of my favorite bands. However, when I let the entire album play over and over again, I started to understand the flow and appreciated it in a new light. I really, really like this album.
  10. Mikal Cronin: MKII
    Mikal Cronin came out of nowhere to me. I think he was one of the great Spotify recommendations that I followed throughout the year. For those more versed in indie music, he's not new. I've loved listening to this indie rock album. It's well-thought, not overly produced, and refreshing in a crowded indie-rock genre. 

Other albums I've enjoyed but didn't make the top-10: Air Review [Low Wishes], Arcade Fire [Arcade Fire], Bombadil [Metrics of Affection], Brooke Waggoner [Originator], Evening Hymns [Spectral Dusk], Five Iron Frenzy [Engines of a Million Plots], Foy Vance [Joy of Nothing], Frightened Rabbit [Pedestrian Verse], Leagues [You Belong Here], Lily Kershaw [Midnight in the Garden], Little Green Cars [Absolute Zero], The Lone Bellow [The Lone Bellow], Mandolin Orange [This Side of Jordan], Noah & the Whale [Heart of Nowhere], The Olms [The Olms], Penny & Sparrow [Tenboom], Phosphorescent [Muchacho], Shad [Flying Colours], Twenty One Pilots [Vessel], Villagers [Awayland], 

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FILM

The following list will likely be lame. I didn't watch many films this year for whatever reason. There are some that I enjoyed, however. Notably absent from the list are the critically acclaimed films from this year that I haven't had time to see yet: namely 12 Years a Slave, Her, Gravity, and Captain Phillips among others.

Favorite Films I Watched in 2013

  1. Of Gods and Men [trailer]
    This is cheating as it was originally released in 2010. But, I just watched it this year and was profoundly affected be it. It tells the story of a group of monks living peacefully during the 1996 Algerian Civil War. It can be slow at times, but that's part of the monastic feel that appealed to me. Watch this film. 
  2. Undefeated [trailer]
    I'm cheating again. This was released in 2011 but I watched it on Netflix just this year. It's still on Netflix for those that want to enjoy it. The summary on wiki:  The film documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The team is turned around by coach Bill Courtney, who helps form a group of young men into an academic and athletic team.
  3. Iron Man 3 [trailer]
    I loved it. RDJ's supreme confidence as Tony Stark is just so much fun to watch. 
  4. Sound City [trailer]
    My favorite rock-n-roller David Eric Grohl directed a documentary about the famous-but-now-defunct recording studio Sound City. Grohl's own band [a little known band from Seattle called Nirvana] recorded at Sound City in 1991. But, it's as much about history as it is about the signs of the digital times and the future repercussions of digital progression and advancement. 
  5. Warm Bodies [trailer]
    My guilty pleasure choice. The inner-teenager within us all loves a good young adult fiction piece from time to time. Warm Bodies is funny, creative, and tells the story of someone coming back alive from the chaotic mess of depression... or is it back alive from being a zombie? Or is it a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet? The zombie genre is overplayed, sure. But this was fun. 
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BOOKS

Like my film list, I will modify my "favorite of..." list for books to include the books that I've read for the first time this year. There are so many books that I never get a chance to read the year they are released. I want this list to include those that I've read for the first time this year even if they were released in 2012 or before. Most of the books I read are to help prepare for sermon series or education writing. Some were assigned by a professor, some were recommending by friends, and some were just found by chance. Here's a list of my 10 favorite books that I read for the first time this year:

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson [Amazon]
    Someone check my temperature: a Congregationalist Calvinist has the #1 book on my list this year. But rarely have I fell in love with literary characters as much as I did in the Gilead. I typically don't read a ton of fiction, but Robinson's talent at writing fiction is indisputable. I absolutely loved this book. It was written in 2004.
  2. Come Out My People!: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond by Wes Howard-Brook [Amazon]
    Originally released in May 2012, this book goes through the entire narrative of Scripture connecting the dots of empire and imperialism and the Kingdom of God. Howard-Brook was a lawyer but left law to become a theologian at Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic University. Though I don't know this for sure [as I'm too lazy to look it up], I believe that Howard-Brook and his wife are now Mennonites, which would totally fall in line with the content of his book.
  3. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman [Amazon
    It's unfortunate that you probably have never heard of Howard Thurman. Thurman's life is truly something remarkable. After growing up in the segregated south [b.1899], he graduated as the valedictorian of Morehouse College. He became a pastor and then the first dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. He helped found and pastor the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. He then became the first black dean at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He was profoundly influential on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders while demonstrating what true racial diversity can look like in his life and career. This book was written in 1949.
  4. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns [Amazon]
    The Evolution isn't a terribly long book at only 192 pages, but it's an important read to help clarify some rhetoric on the many sides of the cosmology debate that Christians have vigorously and admittedly maintained over the last few hundred years. Enns earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and teaches at Eastern University. This book was released in 2012.
  5. The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon [Amazon]
    This book dates back to 1985, when I was four years old. No one read it to me then, so I decided to read it at 31. This is the first book in Capon's parables trilogy. Capon's attempts to connect Christ's parables with the entirety of the narrative is commendable and even enjoyable to read. I found this book very helpful in better understanding the often misunderstood implications of the Kingdom parables of Christ. 
  6. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Jean Vanier & Stanley Hauerwas [Amazon]
    The Bible makes all sorts of peculiar statements about the last becoming first and the weak becoming strong in God's economy. What does this mean? It's tough to believe that this is true when everything I see suggests that the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker. Hauerwas is an ethicist from Duke (now retired). Vanier founded the L'Arche Communities. The do a great job at exploring this tension. This book was written in 2008.
  7. The Longing for Home: Reflections at Mid-Life by Frederick Buechner [Amazon]
    You can pick this book up on Kindle for $.99. It is a collection of some thoughts and essays by Buechner first published in 1996. Buechner talks about home being twofold: the place that we remember and the place that we dream about. This book served a purpose as we were fighting some of my health issues this year. 
  8. Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman [Amazon]
    Gorman's book is a primer for small groups in churches, but it's really much more than that. It's about the nature of community and how relationships are formed. I'm a bit skeptical of one-size-fits-all small group models. This book helped solidify some thoughts on the importance of community and how to organically handle and foster community development in a place like State Street. This book was written in 2002.
  9. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton [Amazon]
    We feel a sense of calling and vocation to the urban center of our small city. It's a transient and difficult area to work that often leaves us with frustrations and challenges. Lupton's words were encouraging and hard to read. They challenged the status quo of how ministry is done in urban arenas. They also gave hope that, though the Church has sought to abandon these areas, Christ has not. It's a good read for those passionate about ministry at the center of the city. This book was written in 2010.
  10. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee [Amazon]
    I read this at the same time that our book club read Jeff Chu's "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" with our book club at church. Both seek to tackle a difficult question; how will the church proceed in a complex world with complex questions about the nature of human sexuality? It's no secret that the Church has not handled these questions well in the past. So much hate and division has happened that looks nothing like Christ. I found both books to be a breath of fresh air in this debate. This book was written in 2012. 

OK. It's your turn. What books/music/movies/albums did I miss that I should check out? Maybe it'll make my 2014 list. 

The 5 Books I [Re-]Read the Most

I love to read. I try to read a new book every two weeks on top of the multiple commentaries and sources I read preparing to teach at State Street. I love reading with other people as well. This is why we started our book club at State Street where 10+ other State Streeters wrestle through different ideas and theological opinions together. 

But, I often find myself re-reading books that I really enjoy. When I find something I like, I tend to be dedicated to that source for life. There are certain movies and music that I have listened to consistently for the last 15 years. I liked them then, I still like them now. So, what are the five books that I re-read the most? Here's my list:

1. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong by Stanley Hauerwas & Will Willimon

--> When did I first read Resident Aliens? I read it for the first time in 2005 upon the suggestion of my friend Dave Cramer (who recommends most of the great books that I have read)

--> Favorite quote?  “The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is — God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.”

--> Interesting fact? This was the first book I ever read by Stanley Hauerwas. Since this time, Hauerwas' writings have had a profound effect on my theological convictions. 

2. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

--> When did I first read The Challenge of Jesus? 2005. I remember reading this book sitting outside at Lamb's Chapel. You know it's a good book when you can remember the exact place you were sitting when you read it. This isn't my 'favorite' Wright book, but it's the one I re-read the most. 

--> Favorite quote?  “The radical hermeneutic of suspicion that characterizes all of post-modernity is essentially nihilistic, denying the very possibility of creative or healing love. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus we find the answer: the God who made the world is revealed in terms of a self-giving love that no hermeneutic of suspicion can ever touch, in a Self that found itself by giving itself away, in a Story that was never manipulative but always healing and recreating, and in a Reality that can truly be known, indeed to know which is to discover a new dimension of knowledge, the dimension of loving and being loved.” 

--> Interesting fact? The first Wright book I have read. Like Hauerwas, he has had tremendous influence in my life. I also bought this book at a Bargain Books in Mishawaka. 

3. The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart

--> When did I first read Doors of the Sea? 2012. Another book recommended by David Cramer. I was preparing for a series on theodicy and the problem of pain/evil. Dave strongly recommended that I read this book by Hart. Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar that really brought some clarity to a difficult topic. Though the subtitle is about the horrific tsunami in 2004, this book is about so much more.

--> Favorite quote?  "For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God."

--> Interesting fact?  I read this three times last year. Fortunately, it's not long.

4. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

--> When did I first read A Grief Observed? 2012. I read this upon the suggestion of my friend Ben Mannix. He suggested that I engage more with Lewis as he believed that I would enjoy his writings. This was another book that I referenced quite a bit in our series on theodicy; [Skubala] Happens.

--> Favorite quote(s)?  "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’" AND "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand."

--> Interesting fact?  I sat in Rocky Mountain Cafe and bawled my eyes out as I read this book. For those that haven't read it, this is Lewis' thoughts about the death of his wife and the subsequent accompanying grief. Heart-wrenching! But, so good. 

5. Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

--> When did I first read Journey to the Common Good? 2008. Not sure what brought me to Brueggemann. I just remember being entranced by his writing. Brueggemann consistently challenges me to believe and practice the peculiar vocations of the church. 

--> Favorite quote?  "The most elemental passion of the prophetic tradition assumes that evangelical faith has little to do with private piety and everything to do with the systemic maintenance of a humane infrastructure."

--> Interesting fact?  I actually used some of the ideas of scarcity in a series on Acts 2:42 from this year. This book is referenced quite a bit in my teaching. 

So, what about you? What books (outside of the scriptures) do you find yourself reading over and over again? I have a few more I could list but this is probably the most accurate top-5 I could name.