Over the past few weeks I’ve shared a bit about my favorite books, what reading has taught me, and a short-list of truly “great” writers. But as I mentioned a few weeks ago, these are all merely glimpses of what is truly good in our world and beyond. So this week I want to share with you some of my own areas of interest and how I plan to delve deeper into them.
You can organize my interests (very loosely!) under three headings: Ethics, Epics, and the Ekklésia (or Church). In fleshing out how I wanted to approach these subjects, some of these books simply fell into my lap, either as gifts from family and friends, or as free or discounted eBooks available from their publishers. But most of the fifty-two works below were pointed out to me by a handful of books I read the last few years (or even months!):
~ After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
~ Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove & Enuma Okoro
~ The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
~ Early Christians Speak, Vol. 1 by Everett Ferguson
~ The Language of God by Francis Collins
After Virtue is preeminent on the list for three reasons. First, reading it last year, MacIntyre reminded me just how much I still have to learn; so many of the works listed under ethics are due to his influence. But he is also one of the reasons why I want to immerse myself in epic poetry. Much like Kirk, MacIntyre points out how ancient epics informed the virtues of heroic societies, the subject and title of his tenth chapter. So while many of the epics I’ve chosen were influenced by Lewis (That Hideous Strength) and Tolkien (The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur, and The Story of Kullervo), MacIntyre has given me new reasons to read in that direction. Finally, MacIntyre is also the inspiration for Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, which means that there’s not really an area I’m interested in that he hasn’t already thought and written about extensively.
The next two on the list really go hand-in-hand. I used Common Prayer for my daily devotionals in 2016, and I read though The Benedict Option this year in the first week after its release. Both demonstrate the need for the modern church to reclaim something she has lost through the ages in order to transcend our politics of lust and greed. But there are also several differences between the two perspectives, CP approaching things from the Left and The BenOp from the Right (see here and here). And yet there were four books recommended by both CP and The BenOp, which seem to merit my attention: The Rule of St. Benedict; Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon; and Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry.
But if I had to sum up the problems with both CP and The BenOp, it would be that they assume the wrong frame of reference for their diagnosis and prescriptions. Both try to recover the wisdom of the early church, but neither of them goes far enough back (only the fifth or sixth century). And that’s where Everett Ferguson comes in with Early Christians Speak. Ferguson combines representative quotes from the first three centuries of the church, organizes them by topic, and then discusses what this teaches us about being the church then and now. So far I’ve read about half of his monographs, and am hoping they eventually digitize his several edited works. He has also pointed me back to many other Restoration Movement writers, many of which are seen below.
Of these five works, though, the one that surprises me the most is still The Language of God. Francis Collins served previously as Director of the Human Genome Project and is currently the Director of the National Institutes of Health. He’s also a committed believer who has tried for over a decade to reduce the friction between the fields of religion and science. The connection between him and some of the works below is probably fairly obvious, like the last three under ethics (although ethics is actually where I disagree with him most). But Collins also draws extensively on Lewis (whom he calls his “familiar Oxford adviser”), as well as Augustine, both of whom appear below.
To illustrate how you can weave the Great Books and other good books into a course of reading, I’ve once again numbered the authors recommended in Mortimer Adler’s classic, How to Read a Book. Although each list is roughly chronological, I don’t necessarily plan on reading them that way. Books I plan on re-reading along the way have been marked with an asterisk (*).
10. The Republic of Plato, trans and ed. Allan Bloom
Plato’s Theory of Education by R.C. Lodge
11. Metaphysics, Rhetoric*, Poetics*, The Constitution of Athens, and Fragments, all attributed to Aristotle
Augustine on the Christian Life by Gerald Bray
32. City of God by Augustine
The Allegory of Love, Mere Christianity*, The Four Loves*, The Discarded Image, The Weight of Glory, Christian Reflections, Poems, and Present Concerns by C.S. Lewis
Dependent Rational Animals by Alasdair MacIntyre
Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry
Embracing Creation by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson
The Faithful Creator by Ron Highfield
Reconciling the Bible and Science by Kirk Blackard & Lynn Mitchell
Beowulf*, trans. Seamus Heaney (alongside Tolkien’s commentary)
33. The Song of Roland
35. The Story of Burnt Njal
The Saga of the Volsungs
The Prose (or Elder) Edda
The Poetic Edda
The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún* by J.R.R. Tolkien
The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Kalevala, ed. Elias Lönnrot
Early Irish Myths and Sagas by Jeffrey Gantz
Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. Christopher Tolkien, forthcoming June 2017)
The Lord of the Rings* by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Inheriting Wisdom, The Early Church and Today (Vol. 2), The Early Church at Work and Worship (Vols. 2 & 3), and Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses by Everett Ferguson
The Rule of St. Benedict
Life Together and Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon
Reviving the Ancient Faith and Reclaiming a Heritage by Richard T. Hughes
The Cruciform Church by C. Leonard Allen
The Crux of the Matter and Will the Cycle Be Unbroken, by Douglas A. Foster et al.
Why They Left by Flavil R. Yeakley
Why We Stayed, ed. Benjamin J. Williams