Top Twelve Books Read in 2018

There is this widespread idea—I’m not sure where it started or how we got here—that dinosaurs roamed among humans in the pre-Internet age. Ok, well not really. Let me try again. There is this widespread idea today that anything before the smartphone age is ancient. Novelty is king and queen today. Being “progressive” or “a forward-thinker” are the new monickers of the contemporary intelligentsia. This is why what I am going to say next will make me sound old. I’m going to say it anyway. We have little patience today for the reading of books, especially old books. But, this is a big miss. There is so much wisdom in good books, not just the new “forward-thinking” ones, but the old ones too. In his introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis states, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. That means old books.”[1]This past year, I’ve tried to follow Lewis’s advice in reading both new and old book. I’ve learned there is much to be gained when bringing the new into conversation with the old.

As the year comes to a close, here are my top twelve books read in 2018. As you’ll see, some are new and some are old. All offer wisdom and inspiration and comfort along the way. In no particular order, here they are:

First, The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. Writing from prison, awaiting his own execution, Boethius seeks consolation from Lady Philosophy. Boethius explores how to find meaning through suffering, the nature of happiness, and God’s temporal mode of being. Insightful, witty, and unexpectedly contemporary (even though it is written in the 6th century).

 

Second, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book explores the relationship between art, beauty, and meaning. It is a heart-wrenching tale of a young man’s attempt to find hope in a nihilistic world.

Third, Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, by Holly Ordway. This new book offers a much-needed corrective to contemporary apologetics. Ordway argues that the imagination is crucial–especially in a biblically-illiterate age–for helping others understand the meaning of Christianity. The imagination is the “organ of meaning” as C. S. Lewis puts it, and helps us understand words like “soul,” forgiveness,” and “atonement.”

 

 

Fourth, Mind and Cosmos, by Thomas Nagel. This 2012 book, written by the iconoclastic philosopher, Nagel argues that there is no plausible neo-Darwinian pathway to explain the emergence of life, consciousness, values, and reason. This book leans in the right direction, arguing against the now dominant neo-Humean way of looking at the universe.

 

 

 

 

 

Fifth, Wandering in Darkness, by Eleonore Stump. This 600-page book on suffering is philosophically rigorous and nourishing to the soul. Stump masterfully explores the story of Abraham, Job, Sampson, and Mary of Bethany, arguing that God uses suffering to bring humans into joyful union with him. The highest good for humans is union with God. Stump’s book helped me understand that a perfectly loving God cares about what I care about. God cares about the deep desires of my heart. This doesn’t mean we always get what we want. But it does mean that as we delight in God, our desires are enfolded into God’s desire for us.

 

 

 

 

Sixth, The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. For Harry Potter fans, this book will be deeply satisfying. A magical coming of age book full of intrigue, drama, quest, love, and danger. Beware for the young reader, however, mature content is explored as the series unfolds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventh, Union with Christ, by Rankin Wilborne. God saves us from sin and for communion with God through union with Christ. Christians are well-versed, argues Wilborne, with what we are saved from. But we lack understanding of one of the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith: we are saved for union with Christ. This well-written book is a must-read for our disenchanted age. Christians must recapture this lost doctrine in order to flourish as God intends.

 

 

 

 

 

Eighth, Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts, by Jeremy Begbie. There is renewed interest today in the connection between art, beauty, the imagination, and the gospel. Begbie, a Duke University theologian, helps us understand that one of art’s chief functions is to point us to the Triune God.

 

 

 

 

Ninth, Our Town, by Thorton Wilder. For years, my wife Ethel has been telling me that Our Town is her favorite play. I finally got around to reading it this year (after 23 years of marriage!). I see why she loves it. It is a beautiful story of the meaning of life in a world full of love, order, and beauty. Birth-Marriage-Death: the story arc of our lives. Within this familiar plotline, we find moments of deep beauty and transcendence. [As a bonus for Fort Worth readers, Our Town is coming to the Circle Theatre this spring).

 

 

 

Tenth, My Life Among the Deathworks, by Philip Rieff. One of the most insightful 20th-century sociologists, Rieff argues that we live in an unprecedented time. Unlike any culture throughout history, today the link between the sacred order and the social order has been severed. As a result, modern life is a “series of warring factions.” The central archetype today is the “theatre:” we wear masks as we play-act a role (Rieff was writing before the advent of social media).

 

 

 

 

 

Eleventh, Even in our Darkness, by Jack Deere. A gripping memoir of beauty and divine love in the midst of one man’s tragedy. Deere was a seminary professor whose change in theology eventually necessitated him leaving his post. This book was hard to put down. It is raw and engaging. Take away: God uses imperfect people. Bonus for Fort Worth readers: Deere’s story weaves in and out of the DFW area- he was a founding pastor of Christ Chapel (my church), a seminary professor at DTS, and he grew up in the area

 

 

 

Twelfth, Walking Through Twilight, by Doug Groothuis. A professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, Doug understands the problem of evil. In this book, he helps glimpse suffering “from the inside” as he cares for his wife while dementia takes her once brilliant mind. This book teaches us how to lament well. It also teaches us to grieve with hope.

 

The philosopher Iris Murdoch once wrote that literature helps us see “how to picture and understand human situations.” Each of these books, and many more that didn’t make the list have helped me understand my own human predicament. They have also helped me see God’s loving care in my life and in the life of those I love. How about you? What are your favorite books of 2018? How have they shaped you? Join me in 2019 in the reading of books–old and new–so that we might gain wisdom as we look through the eyes of another.

For favorite books from prior years see here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

[1]C. S. Lewis, “Introduction,” in Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. John Behr (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimer’s Seminary Press, 2011), 10. Lewis wrote this introduction in 1944.   

4 Responses to Top Twelve Books Read in 2018

  1. Lee Williams says:

    Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to make these lists. You have steered me to some great books.

  2. Thomas J. Riley says:

    Very intriguing list. I just read Union with Christ and it is one of the most life changing books I’ve ever read-trying to get it preached on in my church. Now I’m working through the Brothers Karamazov for the third time. Anyway it’s good to see Christians who like to engage with both theology and philosophy. God blessed you!

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