Some Important Books

At the end of last semester, a student asked me to recommend some of the books that shaped my current thinking. The question was a bit daunting, but here's my reply:

Dear J____,

I've been sitting on this too long, trying to come up with the "perfect" list--but as usual, perfectionism just breeds perpetual deferral. So I'm just going to take a shot and then, if I think of something later, I'll send you an appendix.

I am a bit of a theological mutt: I was converted after my 18th birthday through the Plymouth Brethren tradition, discovered Reformed theology while I was at Bible college, was deeply formed by Catholic thought both as an undergraduate and during my PhD, was quite deeply impacted by a number of years in the Pentecostal church, and have some significant sympathies with the Anabaptist tradition. I'm a mess! (Or, just maybe, I'm getting something right. ;-) So here's a smattering of books that have impacted me greatly, though not listed in any particular order:

Herman Dooyeweerd, _In the Twilight of Western Thought_: this was probably the most important academic book I've ever read (during my first week of grad school). Since you've been at Calvin College, it's insights might not be as revolutionary to you as they were to me, but it helped me to see the _radical_ way in which Christian faith should shape theory in every sphere of life. Also some really unique stuff on the relationship between theology, philosophy, and faith.

Alvin Plantinga, "Advice to Christian Philosophers," in _Faith and Philosophy_ (Vol. 1) [it's also available online in a few places]. I read this as a sophomore, knew I wanted to be a Christian philosopher, and wrote Al Plantinga (and he even wrote back!).

Gustavo Gutierrez, _Theology of Liberation_: Even if I might be critical of some aspects of it today, this is the book that made me realize that the Gospel is a political reality. That when the good news promises to liberate captives and empower the poor, it doesn't just mean the "spiritually" poor, but those who have been oppressed by unjust economic and political structures.

Jack Deere, _Surprised By the Power of the Spirit_: While I was experiencing charismatic renewal personally, this is the book that made me convinced of charismatic faith intellectually.

Marva Dawn, _Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God_ and _Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down_: Marva Dawn's work has helped me to see why worship must be liturgical and sacramental (and hence the poverty of so much 'contemporary' worship), as well as the way that authentic worship challenges the "powers-that-be" by means of weakness.

Stanley Hauerwas, _The Peaceable Kingdom_ and _The Hauerwas Reader_: It was in reading Hauerwas that I rediscovered the Church. He also led me down the road to being a Christian pacifist.

Daniel Bell, _Liberation Theology After the End of History_: I just read this book the past year, but it has made a deep impression on me to work toward making the Church a place that resists the disciplines of global capitalism.

Well, that's alot for your to chew on. Sorry it took so long to get back to you,

The Public Library as Temple

One of my very favorite places in Grand Rapids is our newly refurbished Grand Rapids Public Library (http://www.grpl.org). Aside from being a beautiful architectural space inside, I consider it something of a sacramental site: a place where God surprises me, meets me, guides me, and challenges me. The shelves of classical CDs offer means of delight and grace. The periodical room--with its cavernous sculpted ceilings and sprawling fireplace--opens up the world for me as I curl up on cozy chairs with the New York Review of Books or Vanity Fair (Bunyan would be a bit disturbed by that). But my favorite place--the holy of holies in this temple--is the New Arrivals shelf. In fact, I consider the New Arrivals shelf a kind of Sinai, where I go up expecting God to show me something: to _reveal_ something. Here, in this public library, the acquisitions are not governed by "academic" concerns. There is no logic of selection that I control on the New Arrivals shelf. That's why I experience it as a kind of sheer grace, this gift where I encounter books I wouldn't even know to go looking for. And I am enough of a Calvinist (and perhaps naive enough) to think that God has _appointments_ for me on the New Arrivals shelf--that there are surprises and gifts waiting there for me left by the hand of the Creator.