(N) – I have a word document of notes and quotes from this book
(!) – I really liked this book
(X%) – I didn’t finish this book – I either ran out of time to comit or felt like I got the gist - this is the percentage I read
“There were countless generations who knew the story of Abraham by heart, work for word, but how many did it render sleepless” 
I was scheduled to preach on Abraham sacrificing Isaac this year before I gave the passage away to my friend Zach. But while I was still planning to do the talk, I revisited my favorite work on the story. SK is my favorite philosopher. I wrote six papers on him during my theology degree, including one on F&T. Unsurprisingly, I found that I had not understood it at all my first time through. But it was fun to revisit an old friend…especially one this playful. I remember back when I was doing my Kierkegaard independent study I told my brother ‘I just read about a thousand pages of Kierkegaard.’ His response was apt; “That sounds good for the soul.”
Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin - Cornelius Plantinga (!) (N)
I started this book seven years ago, found the first chapter underwhelming, and set it aside. When I picked it up this summer it still had the Olympic National Park bookmark in it, from my first attempt during a pre-kids hiking trip. But it just kept popping up as a substantial influence in books I love by writers I respect. So I picked it up again…and I came to believe that in addition to the explicit references to this work that had prevailed on me to read it, there was a whole body of insight transferred to me uncited by secondary sources, that had its origin in this work. It was breathtaking.
"the resurgence of conservative religion...taken together provide a massive falsification of the idea that modernization and secularization are cognate phenomena." Fenn (on Berger)
Every year I try to take on an experimental reading program. Consider it the ‘high volatility’ portion of my ‘reading portfolio.’ For years I have wanted to dive into the literature on the Sociology of Religion, but didn’t know where to start. Fenn’s book was like sending a scouting party in a realm of unknown and promising reflection. Like Joshua and Caleb reporting back from Canaan, Fenn gave a report of a realm guarded by the imposing, troubling, giants (Freud and Weber) but that it was a land of rich reflective resources (Martin and Burger) that made it worth forging deeper.
A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (!) (N) – Peter Berger
“Hopelessness does not have a superior epistemological status.” 
This was my most influential book of 2011. I am officially a PB fanboy. I guarantee that future lists will include more. Over the summer I ran overnight flume experiments and passed the late hours easily reading this book. Burger poses a number of startling and fertile ideas regarding how human communities influence individual beliefs. He is most famous for coining ‘plausibility structures’  and ‘the sacred canopy’ and for paradigm shifting work on the causes and influences of secularization. But one of the refreshing things about Berger is that he recognizes that these social components of belief are not somehow limited to religious worldviews and recognizes that ‘intellectuals’ are not somehow magically exempt.  He finds the work of plausibility structures and social warrants for belief in most modern worldviews and takes the ubiquitous sociological data of the human experience of transcendence seriously.
AFG included a number of helpful ideas that really deserve their own posts but include:
- ‘belief clusters’
- mysticism’s ‘morning after’ problem
- the role of institutions (religious and secular) as metaphysical ‘beasts of burden’
- the rise of the knowledge class which led to a split in the middle class and set up our current political landscape, and
- the possibility that secularization has not, in fact, been a story of progress but, just maybe, it is a story of ‘epistemological deprivation.’ 
“It is quite possible that in the dawn of its history the human race had an access to reality that it subsequently lost, as it is possible that this reality is briefly accessible in childhood and then lost in the basically depressing process of growing up. If so, what we commonly think of as progress may actually be a devastating story of epistemological deprivation.”
Finding Darwin’s God - Ken Miller
Miller is a Christian professor of Molecular Biology (Brown) that travels around debating creationists and famous proponents of intelligent design.  He is often mentioned in the same breath with Francis Collins of Orthodox believers with scientific street cred who reject ID and defend the neo-Darwiniain synthesis.
The book is OK. He effectively deconstructs the ID arguments but in his efforts to distance himself from the ID community, he is often uncharitable.  But he is a capable author and the last couple chapters where he describes his own scientific-theological synthesis are quite good. He argues that because of the unexpected weirdness of modern physics it is far easier to be a Christian today than it was 100 years ago. 
“Somehow the universe has engineered not just its own awareness, but its own comprehension. Mindless blundering atoms have conspired to make, not just life, not just mind, but understanding. The evolving cosmos has spawned beings who are able not merely to watch the show but to unravel the plot. What is it that enables something a small and delicate and adapted to terrestrial life as the human brain to engage with the totality of the cosmos and the silent mathematical tune to which it dances?”
Davis is a cosmologist at the University of Arizona and is an affable and complicated figure. I read this book to help craft my ‘positive arguments’ lecture for our Apologetics class. It is the current, definitive lay treatment of the fine tuning argument. The book surveys some of the findings of contemporary physics and asks the old teleological question in its updated, more precise, form…Is chance really the best explanation for all this? “Like the porridge in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, the universe seems to be ‘just right’ for life in many intriguing ways.”
Love Wins – Rob Bell
I hate being forced to read a book. So if a marketing blitz makes a book so talked about that I am forced to read it because people want my take on it, I am generally not a sympathetic reader. Reading time is one of my most precious and limited commodities and this author has essentially stolen it from me with clever marketing. Previous offenders include the Da Vinci Code and Left Behind.
With all that said, most of the discussion of this book has been far to earnest (bordering on hyperbolic)…and in contrast, Don Miller wrote my favorite piece on this little book.
I like Goldengay. Sure he might attribute more creative effort to the Babylonian editor than I do. And from time to time he might be a block or two left of me.  But his insights are penetrating, his prose is effortless to read, and his personal story  (which he weaves into these ‘for everyone’ volumes) gives him credibility.
It is kind of funny that I only read this commentary through Genesis 3, and still read half of it. Walton’s background and commentary on the first three chapters is a long as his commentary on chapters 4-50.  But he is great. Walton’s analysis is characterized by two distinctive qualities:
I usually try to read 4 commentaries on any passage I preach.  One to the right, one to the left and a couple more in my theological neighborhood. In this metaphor, Kidner basically lives in my house. His commentary is incredible because he generally has one or two pages of fragments per passage, but without fail, they have been outstanding. Brueggemann was the commentary ‘on the left.’ I have a complicated relationship with Brueggemann. Sometimes his exegesis is unmatched in its weight and insight. And sometimes it is just goofy. No one had more useful insight on the Tower of Babel but his Genesis 3 analysis made me wonder if we were reading the same text.
Exclusion and Embrace – Miroslov Volf (N) (!)
“Instead of simply affirming plurality we must nurture an awareness of our own fallibility…a world neatly divided into territories of pure light and of utter darkness…exists (only) in the imaginations of the self-righteous…In a world shot through with injustice, the struggle for justice must be carried on by people inescapably tainted by injustice.”
Sometimes it matters when you read a book. If I had read this book a decade ago it would have been paradigm shifting. But on the other side of ‘the new social gospel’ I had a better understanding of the truth and over-simplification involved in the neo-Anabaptist thing. I hugely appreciate the attempt to deconstruct the western evangelical allergy too suffering and our ‘Constantinian’ desire to intertwine church and state…but find something similarly sub-Christian about the moralistic tone and implicit salvation-through-suffering soteriology.
Learning Theology with the Church Fathers – Christopher Hall (50%)
“If I love the wrong things, I will consistently choose the wrong things…an act of choice is not just a matter of knowing what to choose: it is a matter in which loving and feeling are involved. ”
I am a fan of ‘the Fathers’. So I was destined to love this book. It has been on my reading list for a while. I picked it up for a talk I am doing on the historical doctrine of human nature…but could not put it down until I got through the Chrystostom on Providence and Gregory of Nyssa on the Spirit.
It was a good year for me and Boston University. This is exactly what I was looking for. A substantive work of social research (published by Oxford press).  Freitas surveyed 2,500 students and interviewed 111 to understand the interaction of spirituality and sexuality on the American campus. Then she delivers her systematic findings through an anecdotal narrative structure (recounting the most memorable interviews that articulated the general findings) that made the text highly readable.
have a post ready to go on this book as part of the 4 to 5 part romance series I am going to run in January (leading up to a talk I am writing on the topic)…so I’ll say more then.
Defining your dating style: 5 paths to the love of your life – Multiple Authors
 Someday I will write a post “5 reasons I like SK” like the Sufjan post I wrote…and the fun thing is that they will share one of the points. Like Sufjan in music, SK is the undisputed champion in philosophy of ‘best titles.’ Consider, ‘Fear and Trembling,’ ‘A Sickness Unto Death’, ‘Either/Or’, and ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript’ (which was the follow up to ‘Philosophical Fragments’ and about 3 times as long in a hilarious deconstruction of the ad hoc requirements necessary to make Hegelianism work…I am convinced that the work exists almost 90% as a delivery vehicle for the title…which is precisely the kind of cheeky thing SK did. Seriously, there is just no other contender for ‘favorite philosopher.’)
 Like I could have limited the great Dane to a single quote:
“My memory is a faithful spouse, and my imagination … a busy little maid.”
“We are touched, we look back to those beautiful times. Sweet sentimental longing leads us to the goal of our desire, to see Christ walking about in the promised land. We forget the anxiety, the distress, the paradox. Was it such a simple matter not to make a mistake? Was it not terrifying that this man walking around among the others was God? Was it not terrifying to sit down and eat with him?”
 I know analytical folks would scoff at the idea that SK is a philosopher, but they can kiss my existentialist butt. (or actually the butt of my pseudonym’s pseudonym…SK is awesome).
 I actually wrote a paper on Bonheoffer’s dependence on Kierkegaard without once mentioning the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical.’ That seems like a pretty goofy oversight on one hand…but strengthens my thesis that DB was indebted to SK on the other (which, incidentally, was the topic of the ‘fiercest’ debate I ever got into in a class. I was incredulous when a classmate branded DB a ‘Hegelian’ which was his fancy way of saying ‘too liberal for evangelical utility’).
 Great title, after a film from the 1970’s. Of course, if I was to write this book now, I’d go with the title ‘But it’s the other way.’
 Who, it turns out, is Alvin’s brother. This surprises me for some reason. Yes they are both brilliant and creative minds, but the think and write with such dramatic peculiarity and almost no stylistic overlap.
Another really interesting idea is what engineers and ecologists call ‘runaway feedback’ – “People not only reap what they sow but also sow what the reap…sow a thought, and reap a deed; sow a deed, and reap another deed; sow some deeds, and reap a habit; sow some habits, and reap a character; sow a character and reap two thoughts…Hence the progress of both good and evil.”
 Which is particularly surprising for those of us who have wrestled through his brother’s brilliant works that are about as enjoyable as an engineering manual.
 Now this fails as well as succeeds. The reason I didn’t like the first chapter is that the shalom argument got way more play in the 1990’s than it deserved (I wrote a cantankerous paper once that argued that the way progressive evangelicals had pressed shalom into service did not respect the synchronic evidence of the word’s semantic range). Also, ‘spiritual hygiene’ might be the goofiest way to describe holiness that I have encountered. But this is nit picking. In general, much of the lucid value of this work rests on Plantinga’s uncanny mastery of metaphor as pedagogy.
 After briefly parsing sin into guilt and corruption he dodges the standard theological debates regarding the former and zeroes in on the various ways that the latter manifests in human behavior and psychology including the perverting, polluting, progressive and parasitic nature of sin).
 Actually, this is my favorite quote from AFG, but it was longish…“Reality is haunted by that otherness which lurks behind the fragile structures of everyday life. Much of the time the otherness is successfully held at bay, seemingly domesticated or even denied, so that we can go about the business of living. From time to time we catch glimpses of transcendent reality as the business of living is interrupted or put in question for one reason or another.”
 “Human beings, due to their intrinsically and inexorably social nature, require social support for whatever they believe about the world… There are people (and not only theologians or religious believers) who deny that there is any social context to their lives…I believe that the denial is less than honest…”
 “Intellectuals do not have better moral judgment than people with little or no education, they do not live more wisely, they are certainly not more compassionate, they have not fewer but different superstitions, and they are capable of the most mindless fanaticisms.”
 This is a not-so-subtle shot at Freud’s classical idea that religion is an adult attempt to recapture childhood. Berger asks the question ‘what gives adults epistemological preference?’ Why do we assume that children do not see parts of reality more clearly and that the damage done to the selves in the traumatic process of adolescent socialization results in epistemological loss that should be recaptured. Essentially Berger is arguing that ‘myth of progress’ writ large also shows up on the individual psychological level. Whether or not he is right (and I’m not sure he is convinced, mostly I think he is asserting a thought experiment) it casts new light on Jesus’ statement that ‘In order to enter the Kingdom of God’ you must first become like a little child.
 This is the only non-exegetical book I read to prepare my origins talk.
 My brother once said of the Emerging Church folks that ‘they are more charitable to those a mile to their left than they are to those 5 feet to their right.’ I kind of felt this about this book.
 This tails off nicely from Berger and Fenn who argue that the prediction that secularization is a unidirectional and monotonic process has failed catastrophically. Berger and Fenn press sociological data to demonstrate that it has failed empirically but Miller (and Davies, next) press the scientific data to demonstrate that science has failed to squeeze God into a smaller and smaller space, but instead, revealed uncharted (uncharitable?) expanses of reality where he may reside and act.
 But, let’s be clear. I do still like Bell, very much. I actually have a half finished post called ‘Why I like both Bell and Driscoll even thought you are not supposed to be able to like both.’
 Which is actually the best word for it, because he does not commit.
 Which, like the two unfortunate pages on justification in the middle of Simply Christian, is unfortunately all that gets talked about.
 My brother once said that a lack of citation is a sign that an author is over dependent on a source (because they don’t want to point the reader to the source that would reveal the unoriginality of the work). I reviewed a professional document this year that had large chunks lifted word for word from a text I had happened to read. The text was not included in the references. I got a little of the same feeling reading this book.
 In fairness, he may not have even known his cross stuff was from Stott, he might have gotten it mediated through a source on his list that I haven’t read, who got it from Stott. It would be ironic (aihctbu) if Stott, the only author who would be sympathetic to his speculations, was the only author he is indebted to that he didn’t read.
 Though he is difficult to classify. For example, more than once he draws applications from the text that most modern worldviews simply do not have the resources to think in generational time scales or embrace children and that the Biblical text is unembarrassed and unrestrained in its assertion that children are the purpose of romance.
 His wife has been sick, confined to a wheelchair, and unable to communicate for years. He gave up his post as the head of a seminary to devote more time to her care.
 This series has been outstanding almost without exception. If a young preacher had to blindly pick a commentary on a book without any author loyalties, based only on the series, I’d recommend this series.
 I also acquired and started his book on origins but after I read Walton’s commentary on Genesis 1 and 2 I realized that I had already internalized Walton’s ‘Genesis 1 argues that the whole earth is Yahweh’s temple…it is about creation’s function not the details of its making.”
 Every time I use the word Mesopotamian I think “And no one’s ever heard of my band…Sargon, Hammarabi, Ashurbanipal and Gilgamesh…”
 Because, as he points out, similarity does not point out derivation in either direction.
 Two books by different guys, not one co-authored by both…though that might be the most intriguing and surreal commentary ever written.
 We are preaching Genesis this year. MP3’s are here.
 This is a short hand form of the longer quote: ““Both the ‘clenched fist’ and the ‘open arms’ are epistemological stances; they are moral conditions of moral perception – a claim which rests on a more general Nietzschean insight that “all experiences are moral experiences, even in the realm of perception.” …you must want more than justice; you must want embrace. There can be no justice without the will to embrace. It is, however, equally true that there can be no genuine and lasting embrace without justice.”
 Which I appreciate because I think both of these guys have a ton to offer…as well as much to reject, which Volf also unapologetically does.
 E.g. Those whose rhetoric generally aims to impugn or shame more than inform or enlighten.
 One of the most interesting ideas is that the Bible does not grant the poor a moral advantage but an epistemological advantage (because the powerful control the message – I’ll have more thoughts on this in future posts). Also, I think he could be considered a feminist by even the most rigorous definitions.
 My new year’s resolution a couple years ago was to read more women. I have not done well. But there are a few in the balance of the list.
 She lumps these three into a category she calls ‘spiritual’ colleges because she found the sexual and spiritual landscape at theses schools to be basically indistinguishable.
 Freitas, who had literally ‘never stepped foot on’ an evangelical campus before her research, practically gushes about the intellectual and social formation of the students at these schools (though she also identifies the weird of paradoxes of our sexual ethics with relative clarity). Admittedly, she doesn’t have the insight of an insider to recognize our own special brands of brokenness, but her positive, analytical, outsider analysis made me feel, ‘it might be pretty cool if my kids wanted to do undergrad at an evangelical school.’
[38.5] With that said, my hatred of dating books is exceeded by my hatred of my lack of wisdom on the topic. It seems like I field a constant stream of inquiries from students looking for guidance on how to negotiate the romantic choices they are faced with in college. And I find myself with little concrete to offer. So I undertook a systematic reading program to try to move forward just a little.
 If you have not spent time in the evangelical community, I realize that this phrase sounds like something from the 1920’s…on Mars.
 Actually, I think there were three basic approaches advocated, but five authors wrote about their perspectives with substantial overlap between everyone except the betrothal guy (yes, there was a betrothal guy, whose chapter was as strange as you would expect). I was actually a little disappointed that they didn’t go out and find a good South Asian Calvinist to make a case for arrangement. I think it might have strengthened the book.
 Really, the only ‘writing’ that had artistic value beyond pragmatic reporting of ideas.
 Both cultures have an unforgivable sin…which suggests that it is not the failure of the culture itself, but something in the human heart which stigmatizes certain arbitrary actions to the point that it dehumanizes the person and abstracts them to a single behavior.
 It is hard not to feel a sense of responsibility for Laruen all too public story. The Christian community is hungry for celebrity…for our own version of rock stars we can idealize and, frankly, idolize. Lauren’s wit and insight made her conversion something we elevated – which made her subsequent doubt something we took personally. In other words, we comodified her, possessed her, and became ‘economically’ invested in her story, losing the capacity to feel with her or give her space for the hard chapters of her life. (Tebow might want to take note).
 In particular, despite self identifying as a feminist and, therefore, believing that the courtship culture spawned by Harris’ works led to instantiated gender roles that are goofy at best and harmful at worst (a critique I totally agree with, incidentally) she organizes her chapter around five basic points of agreement with Harris et al, taking a position of fundamental unity in diversity and affirms his central ideas (which, she argues, have been distorted by the ‘courtship movement’).
 I have said it before, but Keller is the anti-Lewis in one way. CS Lewis was the one of the best writers of his era but claimed to be a poor speaker. Keller is one of the finest orators of our age, and his winsome, caring, playful tone does not make the leap to the page…but the wisdom does.
 Sometimes I feel like the historian’s daily routine is a lot like the scientist’s (particularly the field biologist or geologist)…and sometimes I feel like they are totally different. But I do kind of think that history is often closer to science in its method than the things we call ‘social science’.
 Especially in the first third of the book where she outlines courtship. When the book turns to the latter topics it is comparably weighty, moderately helpful but less readable.