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A Short Introduction

For some time, I’ve thought it would be fun to share the books that have had the biggest impact on me each year. I chose the title “Top Five Books for 2022″ because they were not necessarily published this year, but they’ve had a significant impact on my life and faith, and therefore thought a list such as this still had merit.

As you will see, these books are on a variety of subjects, some are Chrisitan, others secular. Some non-fiction, some fiction. Most written this decade, with one exception from the 19th century. 

With that said, I’d love to hear what your top books of the year were, be they 1, 4, even 10 (but let’s cut it off there, allright?)

I hope you enjoy. The first book is Tom Holland’s Persian Fire.

 

Advent<br />

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland

There were a few weeks this summer when I was alone in the U.K. (it was a spectacular time, here’s a shoutout to all our UK TPW Folks, you have a lovely country!) and was looking for something to read on my phone as I sat alone at a restaurant or unwound in the evening. Initially, I wanted to read Tom Holland’s book, Dominion (a worthy title in and of itself), but it was unavailable from the library and with all the traveling, decided to just read books from our local public library. 

Although not quite as excited to pick this one up, I soon realized the error of my ways and immersed myself in this spectacular historical account of the Persian Wars, that epoch-defining war between the aforementioned Persian empire and the fractious, irascible Greeks, who would rather die than give up their autonomia, their freedom and self-rule. 

Holland is a master writer–his use of anecdote and rhetorical flourish brings the main characters to life: to the west, the often-fighting Spartans and Athenians each vying for supremacy over Attica & the Peloponnese. And to the east: the world in which Persia, a seemingly insignificant, culturally-backward people on the outskirts of the known world, would rise to become, as Holland points out in his subtitle, the world’s first empire.

For anyone who enjoys history, particularly the Ancient Near East and Ancient Israel’s neighbors, you will not be disappointed by this spectacular history of the Persian Wars, which would ultimately shape the great powers of that time up through the rise of another spectacular emperor, Alexander the Great. 

Get the book here.

Advent

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

I just began reading this a few weeks ago, but it is such a wonderful book. Composed of an extended essay on the season of Advent along with some shorter writings, sermons, and finally a liturgy for Advent, it’s quite the resource on this significant season of the life of the church.

I think what I like most about Advent is how significantly Rutledge attacks the domesticated, Norman Rockwell-esque pictures of Advent we have mostly inherited. Instead, she reminds us that Advent begins in God’s Judgment: then repentance, and finally the hope of Christ’s two comings, as a baby and then as Lord.

It is not the light and breezy Advent devotional we have become so used to. In this way, it is a breath of fresh air, inviting us to enter the season with an awareness of what is at stake in this essential season of the church’s life.

Get the book here.

Unoffendable<br />

Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better by Brent Hansen

Technically, I didn’t read Unoffendable this year, I think it was 2021, but it was so good, and at the time, I didn’t have a Top Books of the Year List to put it on, so there you go. Unoffendable is great because not only does it come straight out of a grace-based approach to life, but it provides a path forward simple against the cancel-culture, virtue-signaling world in which we live and it has the capacity to help us open doors to our neighbor we never would have considered previously.

It is a way for us to demonstrate what being salt & light looks like when most of our PR as Christians seems the opposite: judgmental, hypocritical people.

What would the church look like if we decided, intentionally, to not be offended by other people? It’s a strange question to ask, and perhaps a bit impossible, but then again, so were some of Jesus’ teachings…and like Jesus’ teachings, they aim to point us to the triune God, who, when he took on human flesh, was willing to humble himself. 

The question is, are we?

Get the book here.

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James

Ever since college, I’ve been fascinated with the intersection of Christian faith and public life. At some point we all realize that our faith is a complex mishmash of Biblical truths plus the culture in which we are a part.

What I love about the Misreading series is just how accessible and insightful each book is. By showing us the way other cultures, most notably in the Middle East, approach faith, life, etc., Richards and James provide a new lens to help us see clearly what previously was a bit murky. 

The writer David Foster Wallace famously began his commencement speech at Kenyon College (2005) with an anecdote on culture:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the h*** is water?” 

Indeed, what is water? Culture is much like water to a fish, it’s everywhere and yet infinitely easy to ignore. It requires diligent, sustained reflection to be able to not only ascertain what “water” is, but also to recognize how “water” shapes the people we become. Too much of American Christianity assumes what is cultural is biblical. Books like the Misreading series can help open our eyes to see the water around us. 

As a country, the British and U.S. score exceedingly far on the scale towards individualism. We see the world first and foremost through that lens. We read our Bibles and pursue our faith through an individualist lens.

But the culture of the BIble is significantly collectivist. The Biblical writers saw and wrote from a very different worldview than the one we inhabit. So Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an excellent, accessible entree into learning to recognize this is water.

Get the book here.

The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov (With an Introduction on War & Peace) by Fyodor Dostoeyevsky

Yes, I saved the best for last. For most of my adult life, I’ve almost exclusively read nonfiction. COVID somehow changed all this, and when I decided I wanted to read some fiction, I was intrigued by the great Russian authors. I started with Tolstoy and War and Peace, and it was, truthfully, quite breathtaking. I fell in love with the characters, and while it was over 60 hours of listening time, the ending was worth it. 

But I digress. This is about The Brothers Karamazov. Having read War and Peace, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for The Brothers. Could it live up to all the hype? Would I like it nearly as much as I had enjoyed Tolstoy’s masterpiece?

Each of these answers became an inevitable yes. I connected most deeply with the first half of the novel. If you asked me the major theme (and I have no idea if anyone else would agree with me) of the first half of the book, the answer would be: Is it possible to have a deep, authentic faith in a modern world? 

And perhaps as well, what is the nature of this Chrisitan faith? Is it primarily to escape the world, with all of its temptations and sin, as the judgmental, irascible hermit Father Ferapont argues? Or is it, as the main character, Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov (Alyosha) learns from his master, the elderly beloved monk, Father Zosima…about love. I’ll leave it to you to discover. The second act of the play is, interestingly enough, about a murder. But perhaps more importantly, about answering the question from the first half of the book. I hope you enjoy it.

Get the book here.

Stu

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