Thinking Christianly in daily life
In E=FB², the first B is for Bible. Since we frequently review theology books in WORLD, I’ll praise only one in this article—and much as I revere Charles Hodge’s three-volume Systematic Theology, it’s heavy for beach use in both weight and literary style.
So, here’s my recommended alternative: the simple but brilliant J-Curve (Crossway, 2019) by Paul Miller. Draw a J: The initial downward curve represents Jesus dying and our own dying to self when we become Christians. The upward curve that turns into an ascending line shows that Jesus rose and we rise. From suffering to repentance to love: No dying, no rising.
Miller summarizes well the difference between the once-born and the born-again person. The former encounters even low-level suffering and demands that someone remove it. Small irritations become big. We think we’re surrounded by jerks who need to be brought to justice. But the born-again person, knowing that the world is unbalanced, shakes off irritations. A person who embraces Christ is slow to anger and quick to forgive and forbear.
Miller shows how the J-Curve is not a one-time ride but a recurring necessity: “The flesh is like email. You answer ten messages, but an hour later, twenty more appear.” He gives practical advice: “Conquer impatience not merely by repenting, but by committing to love people who are slow, tiresome, or inefficient. ... If dying and rising with Christ is the new normal, then when we encounter dying, we don’t have to collapse or withdraw into ourselves.”
Not just for one summer
My house is a Grand Central Station: Publishers send hundreds of books and most go out quickly to college libraries, the Hill House Austin ministry, and Goodwill. A relatively small number grab a semi-permanent spot on our fiction shelves. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien sit there, of course, along with other classics: Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins and The Second Coming, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.
José Gironella’s The Cypresses Believe in God and Michael O’Brien’s Island of the World belong in the pantheon: The former ends with a massacre and the latter shows the results of one near the beginning, but both include strong redemptive elements. Another volume on the fiction shelves contains my favorite short story, Leo Tolstoy’s “What Men Live By,” as well as “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” You can also download them for free.
Here are some other keepers from past years, in alphabetical order by author. These novels are not Big 3 frequent offenders (language, sexuality, and violence), but a few have such elements. I liked Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time and The Sense of an Ending, Gregory Benford’s The Berlin Project, James Carroll’s Warburg in Rome, Stephen Carter’s Back Channel, Suzanne Chazin’s No Witness But the Moon, John Darnton’s Black & White and Dead All Over, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, and John Donoghue’s The Death’s Head Chess Club.