I had the opportunity to do some extra reading this summer and I want to recommend three books that I found uniquely helpful and interesting. My guess is that you may not have these on your radar and I would hate to have you miss them because you were not aware of them. Two of these are big picture kinds of books and the other is a more scholarly but still a relatively easy read and simply fascinating.
First, I suggest you check out a book by Nigel Leaves, Religion Under Attack. Leaves is the Canon of St. John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, Australia. Bishop Spong believes this is “A brilliant analysis of the issues facing organized religion today.” Leaves’ books deals with his primary hypothesis: “It is my claim that in the absence of a major theological revolution, traditional religions will continue their further decline into either obscurity or fossilized fundamentalism.”
Nigel Leaves covers a lot of territory here in a relatively short book. He is concise and precise in his description of the plight of organized religion under attack from every direction. The best part of the book offers a realistic and unique response to the crisis we find ourselves in today. This book will be helpful and maybe even inspiring for clergy, denominational leaders, people in the pews and even those who have given up.
Next I would to suggest Brandon Scott’s book, The Trouble with the Resurrection a must read. Scott deals not only with the resurrection issue but after you read the book you will have a much better idea about the formation of early Christianity. One thing becomes clear in this book, all resurrections are not equal. That is true even within the Biblical context. Scott tracks the very different ideas about what was meant by the term resurrection with Paul and as well as the gospel writers. In this book, he helps us get a better feel for the first century use of myth and metaphor and surprisingly, he lays out a whole different way of approaching the concept of the “Christ’s resurrection.” Brandon Scott is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar and a scholar and he does not forget that in this book. But he is first and foremost a teacher. He loves it when you get “it.” That is why this book will work for anyone interested in the subject. It is readable and informative.
And finally, I want to recommend a book, Hungers of the Heart, by Richard Watts, that surely too few people are aware of. Richard Watts is not a well known scholar. In fact I don’t think he would consider himself a scholar at all. Like many people in his situation who have something to say, he is self-published with no marketing budget to sell his book. I must confess, I have had the book on my shelf for nearly a year. A couple of months ago I pulled it out of the book pile I label, “I will read it, when I get a chance” and of course, it seems I never got a chance. One day when I was on my way to a speaking engagement, I threw the book into my brief case as an afterthought. And just before the plane landed I pulled it out and started reading. I thought I would check it out and that would be it. However, I read it on the rest of the plane trip, in the taxi, that night into the wee hours in my hotel room and finished the concise book, the next night. I have read the book twice now and realized at some point that we never ran a serious review of the book. I am sorry for that.
This book is a big picture treatise. Watts is not concerned with nuance of a biblical text or whether Jesus was God, the messiah or was married, for that matter. But he is concerned with much larger issues and I assure you that once you start reading you will not want to put the book down. He wants you to look both outward and inward deeper than we usually go and let the silly arguments about religion dissolve. In the first chapter, his imaginational tour of the cosmos, in just two paragraphs, is worth the price of the book. He would like to see you become more comfortable in the cosmos, the title of that chapter. In fact he considers the desire to be comfortable in the cosmos as one of our natural hungers. My experience in reading this book was almost like a magical mystery tour, without drugs.
His second chapter deals with a natural hunger to be a real person, or authentic person. “Are you comfortable with yourself,” he asks. He also challenges us to recover awe as part of our daily lives. Don’t confuse this book with a pop psych or self help book. This is about creating an authentic spirituality for the twenty first century, “rooted in reason and contemporary knowledge.” If that is of any interest to you, then I suspect you are going to have the same positive reaction to this book as I did. I hope you take advantage of that.
At the end of the book there are discussion questions for each chapter. This book would be wonderful for small group discussions. I suspect the participants in such a group would discover the foundations for a new spirituality and might find themselves a lot closer to each other in the process.