Writings by Cole Huffman

The Books List 2012

(The following piece will print in next month's church newsletter.) Every December I use this space to reflect on books I’ve read during the year. There are books I lose interest in or read one or two chapters of and those don’t make the cut. I can’t always follow through on people’s book recommendations but still like receiving them. Some books I read contain language or storylines or theology that offends.

This year I wrote my first piece of fiction in the form of a short story. The writer’s workshop I attended in August provided the catalyst to finish it. The story is now with an editor in New York and we’ll see if anything comes of it. I read fiction sparingly; writing it was like working muscles I didn’t know I have.

·         The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse. Reading Wodehouse when you’re trying to write fiction is like swimming a few laps with Michael Phelps. I envy Wodehouse’s verbal buoyancy and elegant pen strokes in crafting multilayered stories.

·         Evangellyfish by Douglas Wilson. A satire centering on a philandering megachurch pastor and the Jonah-like pastor he turns to when his fiefdom comes crashing down around him. I also read Wilson’s Wordsmithy, a vibrant little guide book for writers.

·         The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark. A sample: “I dove in [to his first thesaurus when he was young]. Before long I was word drunk, incapable of using a short word when a long word would do. In no time I went from word drunk to word inebriated to word besotted. I became a word tippler, bibber, soaker, sponge reveler, drunkard, sot, wino, carouser, dipsomaniac…” (27-28). See why I liked this book?

·         Bad Religion by Ross Douthat. Christianity’s decline in America is not because America is irreligious and forgotten God but because we’re heretically religious and recast Him after our image and likeness. Debased versions of Christianity hold sway, hubristically self-absorbed in belief and practice. Don’t tell me what’s wrong with America until you’ve looked at your own reflection in Douthat’s salient cultural critique.

·         Why Jesus? by Ravi Zacharias. Ravi arraigns the counterfeit philosophies of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of populist spirituality: Oprah and Chopra.

·         The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Stark is a historian interested in the ascendancy of Christianity from sociological angles. He corrects inadequate and wrong notions of who we’ve been and what we’ve done, including “what everybody knows about” the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and Constantine.

·         Retro-Christianity by Michael Svigel. Evangelicals’ sense of how theological belief develops through history is woefully anemic. What’s the criteria for determining what’s orthodox and not? Very readable with many helpful charts and graphics.

·         Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard. A biography of James Garfield, reluctantly elected president in 1880. He was killed not by the crazed assassin’s bullet that lodged in his back but the incompetent medical care he received in the shooting’s aftermath, giving him severe septicemia. Garfield’s preventable death brought Joseph Lister’s advancements in surgical sterility into American operating rooms.

·         The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal. The curious story of German immigrant Christian Karl Gerhartstreiter who for three decades played the serial imposter, mostly claiming to be a Rockefeller descendant (“Clark Rockefeller”) and gaining a lot of the tonier privileges that name affords. His ruse was finally exposed in 2008. Seal’s tale of Gerhartstreiter reveals us too: We’re most gullible to the most eccentric among us.

·         The Searchers by Joseph Loconte. Uses the Luke 24 Emmaus story as a backdrop for exploring faith and doubt. Good book for a seeker or the disaffected from God.

·         The Grace Effect by Larry Alex Taunton. What he calls “the grace effect” is life being demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes. He uses his family’s experience of adopting a daughter from Ukraine—the plight of orphans there and the corruption of those responsible for them—to make his case. “This country [Ukraine], and others like it, can trace their miseries to either an indifference to Christianity or a willful and systematic suppression of it” (214). Taunton is a Birmingham-based apologist who developed an unlikely close friendship with Christopher Hitchens, the gadfly atheist who died in December of 2011. The first chapter is a few scenes from their friendship.

·         Empire of Shadows by George Black. I love the West and this book recounts the late nineteenth century explorations of Yellowstone. It’s a who’s who of the explorers, native peoples, soldiers, settlers, and trappers who each laid claim to one of the most majestic places on Earth.

·         Socrates in the City edited by Eric Metaxas. A collection of essay-speeches given by Christian thinkers to professionals in New York City on such topics as belief in God in the age of science, making sense out of suffering, and the importance of fatherhood.

·         King’s Cross by Tim Keller. Eric Metaxas’s pastor wrote a book on Mark’s Gospel.

·         What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. A little book that seeks to clarify the essential shape and content of saving faith.

·         Champagne for the Soul by Mike Mason. I’ve read a number of “experiment” books where the author attempts to live a certain way for a set time. Mason did a ninety-day version of this, focusing on joyfulness. The book is his journaled reflections on what it meant to him.

This is the season of joy. Jesus didn’t just experiment with it though. He fixed it as His ultimate pursuit: “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). His achieving His joy is what makes Christmas merry. Happy reading 2013!
Posted by Cole Huffman at 12:38 PM
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