Warlock, by Oakley Hall. Generally considered one of the best westerns ever written, this book is on the surface a fictionalized account of the showdown at the O.K. Corral. But it is also much, much more than that—Warlock explores the development of the American west and the religious and moral issues that attended that development. It also is incredibly well-written; at no point does it feel like its full 450 pages.
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson. Someone has built a barrier around the Earth that is holding our planet outside the normal flow of time—for every second that passes for the people of Earth, 3.7 years pass in the rest of the solar system. Who built this barrier? Are they trying to destroy Earth, or save it? Is there any hope for mankind, or when the barrier finally comes down will we find that the sun has gone out and our particular corner of the galaxy is inhospitable for human life? I highly recommend you read this book and find out.
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins. I hesitate to put this book on the list, since its plot is barely coherent, it pushes a worldview that is morally repellant, and is full of gratuitous profanity, sex, and violence. But frankly it was pretty darn good. Robbins is an excellent writer who has captured the spirit of the 1970s in a novel that is well-written enough to be delightful to read. The best line of the book? “The moon looked like a clown’s head dipped in honey” (pg 59).
The Postman, by David Brin. I know, I know, the movie was an atrocity that should be beat to death with a shovel and buried in concrete. But please try to put the film out of your mind and believe that the book really is one of the masterpieces of science fiction. Brin’s novel explores human nature and civilization in the face of the worst sorts of adversity. And though the view of humanity on display is entirely too sunshiney for my taste, The Postman is excellent and provides much for Christians to think about.
Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. This is one of those books that will make you 1) feel like a terrible human being, 2) understand and agree with the problem Postman is articulating; and 3) do absolutely nothing about it in your own life. At least, that was the effect the book had on me and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to who has read it (including my students). Postman argues that we are increasingly a generation shaped by the image rather than the word, and that shaping is having an incredibly destructive effect on the way we think about and engage with the real world.
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton. This classic biography is valuable both as a devotional and as an introduction to the life of the great Reformer. Anyone who is serious about the intellectual life should at some point read this book.
Quiet, by Susan Cain. This book gives us a sympathetic look into the introverted mind and asks important questions about the worth of being restrained in a society that tends to value exuberance and group engagement. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that introverts are all potential serial killers just awaiting the right time to begin the great cleansing. But if nothing else, Quiet makes us ask whether or not the extrovert ideal of our society is at least partially responsible for the problems that introverts face.
Thinking the Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt. Before he passed away, Tony Judt (one of the 20th century’s premier intellectuals) provided his reflections on what it means to be an intellectual in the modern world, and what responsibility those individuals have to non-intellectuals, and to civilization at large. While parts of this book are obscure (even to those of us in academia—Judt is an expert in Eastern Europe and that’s just off the radar of most of us), Judt nevertheless provides an excellent picture of how the intellect should be used for the service of the common good.
The Courage to be Protestant, by David Wells. This book argues that Evangelicals in the 20th century have largely absconded from our theological responsibilities in the name of either appeal or relevance. Wells rakes us over the coals for abandoning the great theological truths laid out in Scripture, even while admitting the legitimate concerns of those like the mega-church marketers and the Emerging church. Every thoughtful Christian should read this book. Whether you ultimately agree with Wells or not, he’ll give you much to think about.
Instruction in Faith, by John Calvin. Most Christians simply aren’t going to take the time necessary to read the full 1200 pages of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. We should, because it’s both one of the most influential works of theology ever written and theologically/devotionally wonderful, but we just won’t. Fortunately, Calvin knew how lazy we all are and wrote up a Cliff’s Notes version for us. Instruction in Faith is the short-form version of what Calvin thought was most important for new believers to know. This version is well translated and can be read in a couple of hours.
Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, by Abraham Kuyper. This book is the first fruits of the “Kuyper Common Grace Translation Project“, the effort to get Kuyper’s three-volume work on common grace into English. This initial volume provides Kuyper’s thoughts on how science and art fall under the sovereignty of God and conform to the truths of Scripture. Obviously these topics aren’t necessarily of interest to everyone, but if you want to think more about them as a Christian, this is a great place to start.
Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.