By KENDRICK KUO
Since it is the thing to do on blogs such as ours, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books that I read in 2012. This does not mean these are books were published this year, but that I read them sometime over the past 12 months. How do I decide what’s a “favorite” book? I use non-precise criteria of either 1) the quality of the prose, that is, the sheer joy of reading the book, or 2) the author’s ability to introduce the reader to a whole new field or way of thinking about things. Nothing satisfies me more when these two are married in a single book.
Here’s my list in no particular order:
Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, by Graeme Goldsworthy: Goldsworthy uses a presuppositional approach to hermeneutics, understanding that hermeneutical circle/spiral is inevitable. He spends a good portion of the book discussing the relationship between theology and hermeneutics and between systematic and biblical theology. A major thrust of the volume is the integral nature of biblical theology to the hermeneutic enterprise. Of important note, Goldsworthy embraces speech-act theory. This was a fascinating introduction to the field of Christian hermeneutics, particularly because Goldsworthy interacts extensively with other significant scholars.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card: After several years of knowing about Ender’s Game, I finally borrowed the book from a fellow church member and devoured it over the course of three days, which launched me into a two-week reading frenzy as I also consumed Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fun read. I’m interested in seeing the forthcoming movie adaptation.
The Deep Things of God, by Fred Sanders: A good introduction to the Trinity that actually goes deep, as the title suggests, not just wide. Sanders is one of the foremost evangelical scholars on the doctrine of the Trinity, and his grasp of the key questions and issues is evident in his writing. He also does fantastic application of the Trinity to practical theology. Much like Goldsworthy’s volume, I finished this book interested in reading much more on the Trinity. A good complimentary volume would be Mike Reeves’ recently published Delighting in the Trinity and the older The Holy Trinity, by Robert Letham.
Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Wesley Hill: Wesley Hill was a PhD candidate in the New Testament when this was published, but has since graduated and now teaches at Trinity School for Ministry. Hill is also a gay Christian—I’m using his language here, by which he means not that he finds his identity in his sexual orientation, but as shorthand for the more onerous “Christian struggling with same sex attraction (SSA).” The value of this book is that it’s not an exegetical defense of conservative evangelical reading of the Bible, but instead aims to put a human face on the issue. Semi-autobiographical, this book recounts Hill’s own story of pursuing celibacy and weaves in the stories of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Henri Nouwen. A good recommendation for those in the church who live with same-sex attraction/orientation (who may find solidarity and hope in this book), as well as for those who have friends with SSA/SSO. For a more technical, exegetical work, the standard is Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice.
Globalized Islam, by Olivier Roy: In college, I majored in the Middle East and Islam, and I still dabble in readings regarding political Islam and international relations in the Muslim world. Olivier Roy is one of the foremost scholars in the field of political Islam, and this book did not disappoint. Roy conducts a sociological, religio-cultural investigation of what Islam looks like in a globalized world and what he finds is a deterritorialization of Muslim religiosity. Muslims are living increasingly as minorities in Western countries and are deculturalizing Islam, transforming the religion into “mere” Islam—that is, privatized religion, much like Christianity. This denunciation of “pristine culture” as un-Islamic and heralding of a true global ummah that is united purely on religion is what fuels both liberalism and neofundamentalism. Liberalism clings onto Islamic values while neofundamentalism tries to enforce Islamic norms. In both cases, Islam and culture are detached. Roy gives most of his time to neofundamentalists (e.g., Salafis, Salafi-jihadists,
Tablighis), who are creations of globalization while simultaneously creators of globalized Islam. They reject what Roy calls neo-ethnicity, which is a social construct of Islam as culture. Ironically, neofundamentalists are contributors to secularization because, unlike Islamists, they are apolitical and castigate any idea of a state (even an Islamic one) as a Western import. Neofundamentalists may be mainstream—those who practice dawa—or radical—those who practice jihad. There are so many merits to this book—it is groundbreaking and we will see a number of updated editions in the future, I’m sure. I thought the book could have been organized better if the chapters on neofundamentalism were placed first to help ground readers in the sociological categories being used throughout the first half of the book. In short, political Islam is in shambles and neofundamentalism has risen from its ashes.
The Purpose of Intervention, by Martha Finnemore: Though this book was published a number of years ago, it has great relevance to current U.S. policy questions, such as our intervention strategy in Libya and now the question marks around Syria and Iran. Finnemore discusses three types of intervention changes: 1) sovereign debt collection, 2) humanitarian intervention, and 3) international order intervention (balance of power, concert, spheres of influence, multilateralism). She argues that mechanisms of change are at the collective level and individual level, predominantly focusing on social psychological reasons.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris: You can read my review here. Morris retells the story of Roosevelt in such a way that makes you wish you were alive in the second half of the 1800s. One of the best biographies I’ve ever read—up there with Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson series and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. Surprisingly, the sequel covering Roosevelt’s presidency, Theodore Rex, was not as interesting as the first volume. I have yet to read the third and final installment, Colonel Roosevelt. That’s slated for 2013.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn: You can read my review here. Made me think about science in a whole new light. Kuhn bequeathed to us the idea of paradigm shifts and science as a non-linear progression. To balance Kuhn’s hold on me, I intend to read Logic of Scientific Discovery, by Karl Popper, sometime in 2013.
Paul: An Outline of His Theology, by Herman Ridderbos: Ridderbos is not as well known in the United States as he was in his home country, the Netherlands. He stands among Dutch Reformed greats like Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. As the subtitle indicates, the book goes through broad themes in Paul’s theology and synthesizes his ideas, helping us see Pauline categories across his letters. Most fascinating for me was how Ridderbos dealt with the difference between the theological ideas of flesh and body, and the nuances between the two, semantically synonymous, terms. But overall the volume helped me appreciate the work of Pauline theologians and the kind of work that they do for the church.
Books I wish I’d read and hope to get to in 2013:
- The Passage of Power, by Robert A. Caro
- Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon
- A New Testament Biblical Theology, by Greg Beale
- Kingdom Through Covenant, by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum
- Origins of the Cultural Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar
- Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, by Ezra Vogel
- Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, by Stephen R. Platt