Here’s an update on some of what I’ve been reading lately. Much of my reading dovetails quite fortuitously. Hence, this not-so-brief post.
While all of the authors and books that I’m about to mention could be considered to be swimming in the same stream, I rather consider them to be fellow hikers coming out the other side of the same valley, the tower of non-transcendent rationality, namely, the valley of Modernity.
These authors join the ascent from the supposed peak of Enlightenment-modernity, each on their own winding path. Sometimes their paths converge and overlap, but this seems to be because they are all reading the ancient (not always Christian) maps, not necessarily because they are all following each other.
Presently, I do not have enough time or energy to trace out all of the connections (mostly implicit but also explicit) in these works, but hopefully this annotated bibliography will go some way towards (1) encouraging you to read these excellent books, and (2) casting light upon the common move among many great thinkers of our day. (I will list these books in the order that I have completed them.) Without further ado…
My (Late 2016 and) 2017 Reads
- C. S. Lewis… well, everything he’s written. At the outset, I must say that I have been intensely reading and re-reading Lewis now for the better part of a decade. I do not claim expertise, but Lewis so saturates all of my thought that his influence is too great to quantify in this post. The Four Loves still stands as my favorite, but every book, essay, speech, or letter that I’ve read has been shaping me into a more thoughtful, telios Christian. “Thoughtful” in the ancient sense, not a modern, head-centered rationality, but a rich, heart-centered contemplation, the “meditations of my heart,” the “eyes of my heart” have been pried open by his compelling life and imagination. (Biographies of Lewis have fortified these convictions, a few of which I will mention below.)
- Rodney Stark The Triumph of Christianity. This fantastic not-so-little book brings together much of Stark’s important socio-historical research, from the earlier The Rise of Christianity, The Case For The Crusades, and The Victory of Reason, Stark is compelling in his account of the growth of Christianity from an obscure Middle Eastern Jewish sect into the church that includes more than 40% of mankind. One of the many helpful myths that he dispels is that of the “Dark Ages.” Stark traces all the innovation throughout pre-modern Christendom, rooted in and fertilized by robust orthodox heart-mind-horticulture. The so-called “Dark Ages” are a fabrication of the “Enlightenment,” as if there were no light in the world until the scientific method (which is itself a Christian innovation).
- G. K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man. I have recently re-read large sections of this very important, early 20th century work. Chesterton applies his characteristic whit and multi-disciplinary insight to the task of tracing the whole human story as we know it. With similar takeaways to Stark, The Everlasting Man crucifies the modern arrogance towards the past, the chronological snobbery of the present day, dismantling the weak myths of our sterile, scientific world. This book will not only break down some of your modern (and evangelical) squeamishness towards old stuff, pre-modern thinking, and unscientific sounding language, but it is also chalk full of hilarious quips, funny (sermon) illustrations, and timeless turns of phrase.
- James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom. Although this is vol. 2 of Smith’s cultural liturgies series (vol. 3 comes out this Fall), this was my first encounter with JKAS. I’ll say more on Smith below, but this book is very insightful into historic practices of worship, recognizing the wholeness of men and our need to reclaim habitual, ancient Christian rituals of the faith (in order to counteract the implicit cultural worship practices of our secular age).
- Joseph Loconte, A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War. This book helped me begin to situate the writings of Lewis (and Tolkien) as imaginative and conscious refutations of the post-WWI, always-progressing narrative of the modern world. This book grounded a bunch of the imagery of the Narniad and LotR, adding kindling to the fire of my pre-modern imagination.
- Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing. I began reading the manuscript to this soon-to-be-released commentary about a year ago and have only recently finished it. This historical, hermeneutical, and richly exegetical work on the famous discourse from Matthew 5–7 builds upon much ancient and pre-modern thought, situating the makarios and telios emphases of the sermon within their Greco-Roman (Aristotle et al) and Jewish (OT and 2nd Temple) contexts. Virtue formation is central to the kingdom of heaven ethic and is the narrow path towards human flourishing. A very wise commentary, blending insight from various disciplines and streams of historic, orthodox Christian teaching.
- Peter Kreeft, The Modern Scholar, Ethics: A History of Moral Thought. I’ve listened to this audiobook/course on the history of moral thought a few times over the years and thus I must mention it in this summary. Kreeft will help you place much of the ancient philosophical discussions in these other works. (Honorable mention for engaging philosophers: N. D. Wilson, Notes From A Tilt-A-Whirl)
- St. Augustine Confessions. I am presently only halfway through this work, but needed to list it here, if only as a necessary introduction to…
- James K. A. Smith You Are What You Love. This book doesn’t require much of an introduction. Smith reframes and reapplies Aristotle and Augustine in masterful fashion for normal people. I would recommend starting here with Smith (or How (Not) To Be Secular, which I am only 30 pages into at the moment…).
- Michael Ward Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. This was (by far) my favorite read thus far this year. Having just re-read Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy, Ward’s incredible dissertation has forever solidified my love for the medieval, pre-modern theological and imaginative space, through the lens of my favorite dead guy, C. S. Lewis. Summary of this fascinating work: Lewis used each of the 7 heavenly bodies of the medieval cosmos for the 7 books in the Chronicles of Narnia: Lion Jupiter, Caspian Mars, Dawn Treader Sol (Sun), Horse Mercury, Silver Chair Luna (Moon), Magician’s Nephew Venus, and Last Battle Saturn. This book will blow you away. (Ward has written a condensed, more popular version of this dissertation with the unfortunately titled book The Narnia Code.)
- Hans Boersma Sacramental Preaching. I have only read the introductory chapters to this collection of Boersma’s sermons. The goal of this book is to soak in pre-modern (allegorical and tropological) interpretative methods not by learning methods but by experiencing the methods in action (this, in itself, is a very pre-modern way of teaching, much like Lewis’ Narniad argued by Ward).
- Chris R. Armstrong Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis. In many ways, Armstrong brings together everything that I’ve summarized above in all of these books, both explicitly (Armstrong cites/follows Ward at many points) and implicitly (many of Armstrong’s arguments are familiar if you’ve read Stark, Chesterton, and [duh] Lewis).
The glaring issue with this list is the lack of actual pre-modern books (save Augustine). All in due time and with a more robust book budget!
I hope to hear from you with recommendations or further reflections from these books. Enjoy!