I’ve seen a couple of these posts go up by other people, and it seemed like a good idea for a blog post. Look backing on 2016 I’ve realised that I actually managed to read quite a range of books (rather than lots of academic monographs and journal articles). So, in chronological order rather than any order of merit, here are my top reads – covering an eclectic range of books.
- The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks:
This sneaks in, although technically it is a 2015 read, because it is the book Roz bought me to celebrate my PhD viva. It was great to switch gear completely, and the book is a fascinating read about a part of the world I live, but telling the story of the people who live and work the land rather than the tourists who trample it.
After that I’m sure I did read some books between that and my 40th birthday, but they have escaped my memory.
- The Bees by Laline Paull:
This was one of my 40th birthday presents (as well as organising a surprise party, Roz also ensured I received lots of books by asking people to buy books they had liked over the last year). This is a fascinating novel, set in a bee colony. If you like science fiction type works, then this is a generally good read, and it was the first thing like this I’d read for a while.
- The Humans by Matt Haig:
I really didn’t like this one for the first few chapters, but persisted as it was another gift, and ended up quite liking it due to the thoughts about what it is to be human that it provoked – it is another sci-fi type book.
- All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Another gift, this one had both Roz and I completely hooked – set in the second world war it tells the intertwined tales of a young French girl, and German boy growing up and meeting. It was utterly compelling. The sections set in Germany reminded me once more of the horrors of Nazism, in particular the subtle seductions of giving up thinking for ourselves in exchange for being part of an “inner circle”, and the cruelty humans are capable of. In a year when politics has become dominated by meaningless slogans of empty promises based around demonising the outsider reflecting on the way that ordinary people became part of extraordinary horror is vital so that we don’t make the same, or similar, mistakes again.
- Paul and The Gift by John Barclay
The first ‘academic’ book to make it into the list. I took advantage of having finished my PhD to actually read some current NT studies. This is a really good book. As well as being important and interesting it is also really well written. Barclay analyses various ways in which the concept of gift was used in the world of the NT, and then the implications of this for understanding Paul’s theology – aiming to chart something of a middle way between ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although I’d probably need to reread and think further to fully evaluate it.
- Old Testament Theology (three vols) by John Goldingay
I’ve been working my way through these on and off for a while. They contain lots of interesting exegesis and ideas, but you do need to read quickly as Goldingay is, rather like NT Wright, somewhat on the expansive side when it comes to writing. He is always good for forcing the reader to go back to the text and see what it really says.
- A Praying Life – Paul Miller
This was another 40th present. I had read it before – but am very glad that we now have a copy because it is the best book on prayer I have ever read. It is easy to read, but never trivial. It never pretends that life is anything other than very hard at times, but never lets go of the goodness of God in the midst of the pain. Most importantly when I read the book I was motivated to actually pray. Buy it now.
- Serving without Sinking – John Hindley
This is also a very good book – for anyone who serves in any way in their local church or other christian organisation this is also a must read. Helps us ground our identity in Christ so that we don’t take on too much. Another book to read – once you’ve finished “A Praying Life”.
- Being Human in God’s World – Gordon McConville
This was my present from Roz on graduating – my PhD supervisor’s latest book, completed about the same time as my PhD. It is an overview of what the OT has to say about humanity. I particularly liked the chapters on place and being made in God’s image. Very useful overviews of the OT and scholarship on various different issues to do with what it means to live as humans in God’s world.
- Seriously Dangerous Religion – Iain Provan
Only just sneaks in, because this was a Christmas present from Roz. Between Roz and I we’ve probably taken most of Iain’s classes at Regent and for me his Introduction to the Old Testament was a wonderful start to my Regent experience – I was particularly struck by the affirmation of the goodness of God. His course on Hermeneutics and Biblical Criticism gave me a map of how and why biblical scholars have thought and interpreted as they have over the last 150 years or so, and the seminar on OT Theology I took in my final year gave me the grounding and tools I needed for PhD studies, as well as 12 fascinating sets of readings and discussion in a great small group seminar.
This book takes on those critics of the OT who think that it produces dangerous ideas of a nasty god, and by a careful reading of the OT (especially Genesis) shows that in fact God is both utterly good and at the same time far more dangerous than they have realised. Dangerous that is to all those who want to live in comfort and security without regard for the fact that this world is the work of a good and loving God and who damage people made in God’s image and the world that is his good gift for people to take care of. Well worth reading – with some really interesting sections comparing the biblical worldview with that of other religions and philosophies. It always engages closely with the biblical text, and so even if you end up disagreeing with conclusions here and there you will have been forced to think carefully about what the text says and why you think it means what it does – never a bad thing!
- The Life you never Expected – Andrew & Rachel Wilson
Technically this is a January 2017 book, but it is so good that I had to list it here. This is the next book after “A Praying Life” that I would buy on this list. It tells Andrew & Rachel’s story of raising autistic children – but in the process gives a really good perspective on the whole of the Christian life, in particular on the reality that often really hard things happen that we will never (at least this side of eternity) understand – and we have to live with the unanswered questions. This book is really useful in giving a perspective that will help to live in such times.