The Austin Seminary Book Club is proud to announce its 2014-2015 list. Every month a member of the Austin Seminary community will lead the conversation and we hope you'll join us in the discussion. You can learn how to become a member here.
The God Cookie by Geoffrey Wood
Moderator: Leanne Thompson (MDiv’06)
Meet Parrish. He’s a regular guy, owns a coffee shop. He happens to be shooting the breeze with his buddies at the neighborhood Chinese buffet, talking about the dents in golf balls and such, when the discussion develops into a debate on whether or not God still speaks to people.
When his friends skip out and he is left alone, Parrish tells God he's “all in.” Ready to listen, do what he’s told, and see what happens. Only moments later, back at his table, he opens his fortune cookie to find a surprise —instead of a proverbial statement, he reads a directive from God.
“Take the corner.”
God, via cookie, sends him on this first step of a seemingly absurd adventure. His quest sends him to the corner bus stop, where he finds a dropped and forgotten letter, written in a desperate tone, to help those God brings across his path. There, Parrish befriends Audra, a nursing student who rides the bus home. And together they begin to follow the god cookie message, pursuing the random threads of the experiment, tying them together and discovering more about themselves than either ever imagined possible.
Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers
In Drawn In, Bronsink shows how the rhythms of God’s creative work can be discovered through design thinking and creative processes. Exercises invite participation in God’s life and redemptive rhythms. This holistic approach will shift how Christian creatives think of mission, worship, collaboration, and everyday discipleship.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Moderator: Lisa Juica (MDiv’11)
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year," said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”—indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
Border of Death, Valley of Life: An Immigrant Journey of Heart and Spirit (Celebrating Faith: Explorations in Latino Spirituality and Theology) by Daniel G. Groody
Moderator: Professor Gregory Cuéllar
This is a powerful, first-hand account of a religious ministry that reaches out to console, heal, and build the lives of poor and desperate immigrants who come to the United States in search of a better life. Daniel G. Groody talked with immigration officials, "coyote" smugglers, and immigrants in detention centers and those working in the fields. The picture that emerges starkly contrasts with the negative stereotypes about Mexican immigrants: Groody discovered insights into God, family, values, suffering, faith, and hope that offer a treasury of spiritual knowledge helpful to anyone, even those who are materially comfortable but spiritually empty. This book has a message that reaches across borders, divisions, and preconceptions; it reaches all the way to the heart.
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Moderator: Jo Kretzler (MDiv’14)
Taylor has become increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well? In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.” She argues that we need to move away from our “solar spirituality” and ease our way into appreciating “lunar spirituality” (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes). Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.
With her characteristic charm and literary wisdom, Taylor is our guide through a spirituality of the nighttime, teaching us how to find our footing in times of uncertainty and giving us strength and hope to face all of life’s challenging moments.
Trust in God: The Christian Life and the Book of Confessions
Writer and Moderator: Professor David W. Johnson
In this accessible book, David Johnson examines the Christian spiritual life using the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a guide. He demonstrates how the Book of Confessions can help us understand what it means to be a Christian and how one goes about living a Christian life. Johnson uses the rubrics of faith, love, and hope to ground our understanding of spirituality and help us develop disciplines for our spiritual lives. These disciplines include listening and speaking, worship and Sabbath, giving and stewardship, patience and planning, and reconciling. Three appendices give concrete guidelines for engaging in Bible reading and prayer—the two central spiritual disciplines of the Reformed tradition. Johnson's helpful book invites laity and clergy to participate in the blessings and joys of a Reformed vision of the spiritual life.
Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty by Gregory A. Boyd
Moderator: Crystal Silva-McCormick (MDiv’10)
In Benefit of the Doubt, influential theologian, pastor, and bestselling author Gregory Boyd invites readers to embrace a faith that doesn't strive for certainty, but rather for commitment in the midst of uncertainty. Boyd rejects the idea that a person's faith is as strong as it is certain. In fact, he makes the case that doubt can enhance faith and that seeking certainty is harming many in today's church. Readers who wrestle with their faith will welcome Boyd's message that experiencing a life-transforming relationship with Christ is possible, even with unresolved questions about the Bible, theology, and ethics. Boyd shares stories of his own painful journey, and stories of those to whom he has ministered, with a poignant honesty that will resonate with readers of all ages.
Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
Moderator: Nancy Mossman (MDiv’88)
In Living With a Wild God, Ehrenreich recounts her quest—beginning in childhood-to find "the Truth" about the universe and everything else: What's really going on? Why are we here? In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence, which records an event so strange, so cataclysmic, that she had never, in all the intervening years, written or spoken about it to anyone. It was the kind of event that people call a "mystical experience"—and, to a steadfast atheist and rationalist, nothing less than shattering.
In Living With a Wild God, Ehrenreich reconstructs her childhood mission, bringing an older woman's wry and erudite perspective to a young girl's impassioned obsession with the questions that, at one point or another, torment us all. The result is both deeply personal and cosmically sweeping—a searing memoir and a profound reflection on science, religion, and the human condition. With her signature combination of intellectual rigor and uninhibited imagination, Ehrenreich offers a true literary achievement—a work that has the power not only to entertain but amaze.
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Moderator: Associate Dean Timothy Lincoln
Eight years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death. My Bright Abyss, composed in the difficult years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith—responsive not only to modern thought and science but also to religious tradition—might look like.
Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, useful not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at times to overbrim its boundaries. How do we answer this “burn of being”? Wiman asks. What might it mean for our lives—and for our deaths—if we acknowledge the “insistent, persistent ghost” that some of us call God?
Zealot by Reza Aslan
Moderator: Professor Lewis Donelson
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.
Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious “King of the Jews” whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.
Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis
Writer and Moderator: Patricia K. Tull (MDiv’85)
In this thoughtful study, respected Old Testament scholar Patricia K. Tull explores the Scriptures for guidance on today's ecological crisis. Tull looks to the Bible for what it can tell us about our relationships, not just to the earth itself, but also to plant and animal life, to each other, to descendants who will inherit the planet from us, and to our Creator. She offers candid discussions on many current ecological problems that humans contribute to, such as the overuse of energy resources like gas and electricity, consumerism, food production systems—including land use and factory farming—and toxic waste. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions and a practical exercise, making it ideal for both group and individual study. This important book provides a biblical basis for thinking about our world differently and prompts us to consider changing our own actions. Visit inhabitingeden.org for links to additional resources and information.
Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Spirit, and Vocation
Writer and Moderator: Professor David F. White
Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Spirit, and Vocation helps parents, youth workers, and congregations cultivate purpose and vocation in youth and young adults. Recent findings disclose a pervasive sense of purposelessness that threatens young adults' health and well-being, and also the common good. The good news is that research shows all young people also have an often-hidden sense of purpose that can be noticed, named, and nurtured by parents and communities. This volume supplements research with findings from Emory's Youth Theological Initiative (YTI), which identifies four pathways—desire, joy, compassion, and responsibility—by which young people discover a sense of purpose. Growing from research at YTI, this volume provides concrete suggestions for how Christian communities might engage young people in practices to cultivate a sense of purpose, including narrative resources by which to make theological sense of their impulses of desire, joy, compassion, and responsibility.
*All reviews and synopses courtesy of the authors' Amazon profile.