the best 5 books I read this year

The gap between Christmas and New Year usually affords some time for reflection — as well as watching the cricket, lazing around with family and friends, and generally trying to recover from overindulging at Christmas!

In this spirit, I want to share with you the best 5 books I’ve read this year. Not all of them are new. But I’m sure they’ve all shaped my thinking, feeling and acting.

So, here they are (in no particular order):

  1. Karl Barth’s Earlier Theology by John Webster. Webster carefully draws out the key themes of Barth’s earlier theology (examining lecture cycles and published works dating from between the second edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans and the Church Dogmatics). He shows how Barth consistently returned to the knot of ethical questions left by the Renaissance — What does it mean to live a fully human life? etc — answering them on the basis of the Reformation’s radical recognition of God’s sovereign freedom and grace. Massively stimulating!
  2. Galatians Anchor Bible Translation and Commentary by J. Louis Martyn. Martyn’s translation (and explanatory notes) have the same invasive and subsequently illuminating character he claims Paul’s thinking in Galatians does. While not always convincing, Martyn is totally worth reading. And the whole ‘apocalyptic turn’ in theology and biblical studies sparked by this commentary is tremendously generative.
  3. To Change The World by James Davison Hunter. No surprises here I guess. I blogged enough about this when I was reading it. But even though some of my initial ardour may have cooled, I still believe Hunter’s project and approach is precisely what’s needed as Christians continue to wrestle with how to engage in the public sphere.
  4. Joined-up Life by Andrew Cameron. Not only is this take on Christian ethics deeply insightful and brilliantly constructed — each chapter makes a relatively simple point, but taken together they provide a remarkably nuanced map of what Cameron calls the ‘ethical field’. But the language Cameron chooses also has the capacity to bust through so many of the log jams in contemporary ethics and Christian living (my copy has “That’ll preach!” scrawled in the margins more times than I care to count).
  5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Yep, one of these books is not like the others. It’s a novel. And even though I didn’t manage to read many of the parenting books on my list before my son arrived, I’m sure Franzen’s riotous catalogue of family malfunctions convinced me that — no matter what we try — we all mess up our kids in our own unique ways.

Maybe you could share one or two of the books that have shaped you most this past year?

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