Writings by Cole Huffman

The Books List 2017

“I remember reading once how some Stone Age Indians from the Brazilian rainforest with no knowledge or expectation of a world beyond the jungle were taken to Sao Paulo or Rio, and when they saw what it contained—the buildings, the cars, the passing airplanes—and how thoroughly at variance it was with their own simple lives, they wet themselves, lavishly and in unison.” Bill Bryson put this in his book A Walk in the Woods to parallel his experience of entering Knoxville after walking off the Appalachian Trail.

Bryson’s was one of the books I’ll list here that made me laugh, think, and even cry this year, in no set order:

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. A South African novel about a black priest who goes to Johannesburg looking for his son, Absalom, but discovers he killed the son of a wealthy white landowner from his home area. Incredible ending. “I have never thought that a Christian would be free from suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that He suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For He knew that there is no life without suffering.”

A Crazy, Holy Grace by Frederick Buechner. Reflections on pain and loss and healing and hope. If you try to stuff or deny your pain, or otherwise forget it, a part of you doesn’t grow.

Before You Wake by Erick Erickson. Health problems he and his wife are facing prompted him to write down for his children, currently 11 and 8, what he wants them to know about him, about life, and even about the recipes he includes in the book. His chapter “Summer in the South: To Suffer Is to Live” is the best.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Narrative nonfiction I wish was fiction. Quinones connects all the trafficking dots from Mexico to Memphis, and also tells stories of addiction to prescription pain meds.

J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. As in addiction, modern evangelicalism is caught in the psychoses of civil religion, franchise churches, and cultural tribalism. We need a certain kind of recovery of writers, thinkers, and theological leaders in the shape of Packer.

God Has A Name by John Mark Comer. Portland pastor with a gift for holding God’s declared name in Exodus 34:6-7 up to the light to show the brilliance of His character within.

A Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments: How, For Better or For Worse, Our Ideas About the Good Life Come From Moses and Jesus by John Dickson. A book you could read with someone wanting to explore Christianity.

Strange Days by Mark Sayers. Another Australian pastor (like Dickson), Sayers is an incisive tour guide to what radical individualism has wrought within and outside ourselves, and what we should do about it as people who live by the Spirit of God. “What we face in the West is not persecution but uncomfortability.”

Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier. The title is how a small-town pastor concludes each letter he writes to his congregation. “If the idea of providence means anything, then it must at least mean that our life consists of all manner of truths and experiences we would never imagine and could never orchestrate. The old mystics liked to say that ‘all is gift.’ I still scratch my head over this idea, but I’m learning to trust that everything we encounter, every beauty and every tragedy, invites us deeper into God, deeper into our truest selves.” 

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge. A thick book I’ve been reading slowly in pieces over months, not because it's so large but so good.

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics by Mark Lilla. An Ivy League professor takes apart the political romanticism he thinks plagues the Left, but I find it in what passes for conservatism now too. Identity politics are a problem across the board. “In an age when we need to educate young people to think of themselves as citizens with duties toward each other, we encourage them instead to descend into the rabbit hole of self.”

Suburbianity by Byron Yawn. Nashville pastor who writes, “I expect that most suburban Christians are like me, struggling to tell the difference between what is generally American and what is actually Christian. Or what is vaguely spiritual and what is actually biblical. Or what is merely moral and what is specifically godly. This confusion is a central concern in this book.”

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal. The author is a medical doctor turned journalist, appalled by how expensive our healthcare is: “Relatively well-off folks with insurance have lost hard-earned retirement savings paying for one serious disease. Twenty-somethings, just starting careers, have had their credit ratings trashed by unaffordable prices for a blood test or treatment of a minor illness.”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson. His last book: a collection of sermons spanning a long obedience in the same direction.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall. “Africa’s coastline? Great beaches—really, really lovely beaches—but terrible natural harbors. Rivers? Amazing rivers, but most of them are worthless for actually transporting anything, given that every few miles you go over a waterfall. These are just two in a long list of problems that helps explain why Africa isn’t technologically or politically as successful as Western Europe or North America.” I’ve always loved geography, but never knew until reading this book what it means to geopolitics. The Russia chapter was particularly enlightening.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. I was doing some rediscovering of mercy myself this year. Lamott practices transparency well, and crafts musings like this one: “A real teacher makes it clear that even as he or she points to the moon, we have got to stop staring at the person’s fingers.”

Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler. “Almost half of all churches with more than 10,000 members preached prosperity from the pulpit.” It’s a distinctly American heresy.

Destroyer of the Gods by Larry Hurtado. A brief history of how the early church stood out in the Roman world—essentially through self-sacrificial compassion and Christ-exclusive conviction.

Crashing the Idols: The Vocation of Will D. Campbell by Richard Goode (and includes a selection of Campbell’s writings). I’ve long admired Campbell, an Oxford, Mississippi, and Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, white minister who fought for racial justice in America, marching with Dr. King and civil rights leaders, and simultaneously befriended Klansmen because he knew the victimizers needed the gospel too.

Letters Along the Way by John Woodbridge and D. A. Carson. A fictional exchange of letters between an older seminary professor and a younger man finding his way in life and ministry. In one of the letters from the professor: “As he approached death, John Calvin, of all people, complained that his heart had been cold towards the Lord during his life and asked for forgiveness. If Calvin’s heart was cold, my own heart must be arctic.”

I know the cold heart in myself. Part of why I read theology is to keep my heart warm to God. Part of why I read widely is to keep it warm to people who need Him. This reading list has ministered to me in a hard year, from angles even and odd.


Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:07 AM
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