Writings by Cole Huffman

The Books List 2014

Writers know their way around the world. I found my way out to Colorado back in June to hear Cornelius Plantinga say that. A small group of pastors from around the country and Canada got to spend a week there with Plantinga who was leading us through his “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” seminar. The book form of that is Reading for Preaching, where he elaborates: “The reading preacher will discover that great writers know the road to the human heart and, once at their destination, know how to move our hearts” (6). Here are 10 books that did that for me in 2014:

Open Secrets (Richard Lischer): A searching memoir of pastoral life in a small farm town similar to the town and church I grew up in. Lischer fitfully found his way in that world and is vivid on lessons learned.

Exclusion and Embrace (Miroslav Volf): The world gets divided into victims and perpetrators, yet repentance applies to victims too. Volf spells out why and how, and warns, “If victims do not repent today they will become perpetrators tomorrow who, in their self-deceit, will seek to [absolve themselves of] their misdeeds on account of their own victimization” (117). 

The Professor and the Madman (Simon Winchester): In the nineteenth century, one of the most prolific original contributors to The Oxford English Dictionary was a clinically insane American doctor incarcerated in a British asylum for killing a man.

More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments (Megan Hustad): The author grew up on the mission field and resides now in ambivalence toward evangelicalism. What a missionary-friend confided to me years ago came back to mind as I reflected on Hustad’s experiences: “I’m often afraid maybe I’m screwing up my kids’ lives living on the field.” But a longing for God is in Hustad still.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Christian Wyman): The editor of Poetry magazine had the best paragraph of my reading year: “You know the value of your doubt by the quality of the disquiet that it produces in you. Is it a furious, centrifugal sort of anxiety that feeds on itself and never seems to move you in any one direction? Is it an ironclad compulsion to refute, to find in even the most transfiguring experiences, your own or others’, some rational or ‘psychological’ explanation? Is it an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith? There is something static and self-enthralled about all these attitudes. Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward—or at least outward—even in your lowest moments. Such doubt is painful—more painful, in fact, than any of the other forms—but its pain is active rather than passive, purifying rather than stultifying. Far beneath it, no matter how severe its drought, how thoroughly your skepticism seems to have salted the ground of your soul, faith, durable faith, is steadily taking root” (75-76).

The Social Animal (David Brooks): A study of human character, achievement, longing, and knack utilizing cognitive and behavioral sciences but warmly presented in the lives of Harold and Erica. I always feel when I read Brooks that he’s not far from the kingdom.

True Paradox (David Skeel): It’s an apologetic book you could read with a skeptical friend, subtitled “How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World.” As an attorney he offers keen insights from law and the arts. 

The Good of Affluence (John Schneider): The condition of affluence (not consumerism) is a cosmic good, at the core of God’s eternal vision for human flourishing. This book is an Archimedean point between evangelical poles—neither prosperity gospel nor anti-affluence activism that too often turns poverty into a sanctified state in itself.

The Pastor’s Justification (Jared Wilson): An extended meditation on 1 Peter 5 directed at pastors and our work. He understands well the man and the job.

David and Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell): Part One is called “The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages),” and that’s why I like Gladwell—the angles he takes on things. The last chapter on Andre Trocme, a French Huguenot pastor who hid Jews during WWII, continues to move my heart.

I read some novels this year too, classics like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and recents like Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I read a book called Enrique’s Journey, about Central American children trying to get to their mothers in the US, based on a series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles by Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario, who hopped a few Mexican trains to see firsthand their plight. My presidential biography this year was two: Robert Caro’s second volume in his The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Means of Ascent and Matthew Algeo’s The President is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth.

As of this writing I’m finishing a book by Peter Nowak called Sex, Bombs, and Burgers: How War, Pornography, and Fast Food Have Shaped Modern Technology. I thought that fitting after reading Joseph W. Smith III’s well-done exegetical work, Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book. Keeping it violent—and because Vandy isn’t worth watching this season—I’m about to read Mark Edmundson’s Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game. There’s always next year.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:43 PM
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