Here is a list of the top books that have shaped my view of the world. See my other list of authors that have changed my life.
1. NEIL POSTMAN, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. Postman is our greatest media ecologist. Todd Gitlin’s Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives and Thomas de Zengotita’s Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live In It are also very good.
2. ANDREW DELBANCO, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost Their Sense of Evil and The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Richard Rorty expresses my view of this author: “Andrew Delbanco is one of America’s most acute and perceptive cultural critics.” His books are beautifully written.
3. JAMES DAVISON HUNTER, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in Late Modernity, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, and The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America’s Children. Hunter is the most clear-sighted social theorist on the culture wars and Christian cultural engagement. Ignore him at your own peril.
4. CHARLES TAYLOR, A Secular Age, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, and Modern Social Imaginaries. No one has helped to understand modernity, secularism, and multiculturalism more than Taylor. Simply put, he is a genius.
5. ROBERT WUTHNOW, After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. This book offers a “thick description” of my generation. From the publisher:
What are their churchgoing habits and spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? Interpreting new evidence from scores of in-depth interviews and surveys, Wuthnow reveals a generation of younger adults who, unlike the baby boomers that preceded them, are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, getting married, starting families of their own, and settling down–resulting in an estimated six million fewer regular churchgoers. He shows how the recent growth in evangelicalism is tapering off, and traces how biblical literalism, while still popular, is becoming less dogmatic and more preoccupied with practical guidance. At the same time, Wuthnow explains how conflicts between religious liberals and conservatives continue–including among new immigrant groups such as Hispanics and Asians–and how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality. Wuthnow’s fascinating analysis also explores the impacts of the Internet and so-called virtual churches, and the appeal of megachurches.
6. LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI, Modernity on Endless Trial. To quote an endorsement of the book: “Whether learned or humorous, these essays offer gems in prose of hardness, precision, and brilliance.” Kolakowski covers “the nature and limits of modernity, Christianity in the modern world, politics and ideology, and the question of the claim to knowledge of the human sciences. Taken together, they present an overview of the problems and dilemmas facing modern reason and modern man. How far can we extend our cultural relativism without compromising our intellectual coherence? Can we do without religion in the modern world? How can we find a political philosophy that is neither religion nor ideology?”
7. ALLAN BLOOM, The Closing of the American Mind. No other book has helped me to understand the crisis of higher education today – a crisis that is only getting worse, not better. Bloom was prophetic. I credit this book with steering me away from a career in the university.
8. TERRY EAGLETON, The Idea of Culture, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Reason, Faith, and Revolution:Reflections on the God Debate and The Meaning of Life. I devour this man’s writing. Eagleton is an important voice and an inestimable stylist – always witty and profound. I look forward to reading his new book, On Evil.
9. Tie: ALISTER McGRATH, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First and DIARMAID MacCULLOCH, The Reformation: A History. These books have given me two things: a first-rate education on the history of Protestantism and “the courage to be Protestant” (to borrow the title of David Well’s book). I look forward to reading MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. This book promises to be the finest single-volume history of Christianity written in our lifetime.
9. GREG FORSTER, The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics. This book provided an invaluable service, filling a gap in my knowledge concerning “the history of Christian political thought traced down through Western culture.”
10. Tie: CARL RASCHKE, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity, JAMES K. A. SMITH, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, and PETER LEITHART, Solomon Among the Postmoderns. Regarding Raschke’s book, I quote the endorsement from Bruce Ellis Benson, professor of philosophy at Wheaton College:
With deep passion and matching erudition, Raschke compellingly argues that postmodernity not only has something to teach evangelicalism but also calls it to a new Reformation. Masterfully drawing on postmodern thinkers, Raschke exposes the idolatry of modernity and points readers back to faith. Even those who disagree with his vision for the church will have to take it seriously.
Regarding Smith’s book, I quote the endorsement from Carl Raschke:
Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K. A. Smith is a powerful and persuasive rejoinder to those in the evangelical academy who persist in pushing the now discredited canard that postmodernism is incompatible with both historical Christianity and the history of orthodoxy. Smith weaves an incredibly insightful exposition of three key postmodern philosophers–Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault–with illustrations from both popular media and culture. He concludes with a proposal for recovering liturgy and ‘redeeming dogma’ while rethinking the mission of ‘confessing’ Christianity in a global setting. Postmodernism, according to Smith, is something you not only don’t need to be afraid of any longer but you can even take it to church!
Regarding Leithart’s book, I quote the endorsement from Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California:
Peter Leithart’s Solomon among the Postmoderns is welcome evidence of a maturing evaluation of postmodernism in Christian circles that neither lionizes nor demonizes. Engaging in conversation rather than caricature, the author takes his interlocutors seriously precisely because he is so confident in the power of the biblical narrative to pull down all of our towers of Babel, whatever we call them. For those weary of wholesale denunciations or wholesale endorsements of postmodernism, this patient, well-informed and well-written essay in godly wisdom will illumine and inspire.
Books that I anticipate will significantly influence me in the future:
- Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Michael Horton’s highly anticipated work represents his magnum opus and will be viewed as one of–if not the–most important systematic theologies since Louis Berkhof wrote his in 1932).
- Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church
- Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
- George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture and The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief
- Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: The Uses of Faith After Freud
- Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism
- Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State
- Darryl Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism
- Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of Christ
- Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture
- Jaroslav Pelkan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 volumes)
- Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen, The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education