My Summer Reading List

beach reading

by John Ellis

Shortly, Lord willing, my family and I will be enjoying a mini-vacation in the Florida Keys. We are looking forward to swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center, relaxing on the beautiful, tranquil beaches of the Keys, and enjoying the best seafood that can be found in this country. During our time there, of course, I will take the opportunity to read and read some more. Some of the books I will be devouring while my kids avoid jellyfish and sharks are listed below. Sadly, I won’t be able to read all twelve books listed while lounging on the beach in Key Largo, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Admittedly, this list is late. For many, the summer is already halfway over. Fair enough. I won’t argue that point. However, my family and I moved almost 900 miles from the D.C. area to Orlando, FL this summer. I’ve been a little preoccupied. That out of the way, I humbly put forward this list in the middle of July because several of the books on my list were introduced to me by the summer reading list of others. My hope is that at least some of my readers will find a book or two that sparks their fancy. If not, so be it. If nothing else is accomplished, I enjoy making lists.

The following books aren’t in any particular order. A few of them, I’ve already begun reading. Some, in fact, I’ve finished and a couple of others I’m close to completing.  No doubt, I will run out of reading material before the summer is over (no matter how I choose to define “summer”). To that end, I would love (really, love) to hear your book suggestions that you leave in the comment section.

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer

I started reading this book about a week ago, and I love it! Owing to my probably hyperbolic reaction to it, I’m at a loss as to how to reduce this book into a short paragraph. The best way to describe it, I think, is to simply and, probably unhelpfully, resort to the reductionist statement that Dr. Vanhoozer claims that doctrine gives us the stage directions for the Christian life and the Church’s mission. On a side note, I emailed Dr. Vanhoozer expressing my gratitude for how he’s put into words many of the thoughts I’ve had about Bible study and hermeneutics coming out of my theatre background. I included a link to my Storyteller’s Bible Study post, to which he emailed back his appreciation and encouraged me to keep working on the series.

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen

Eight times in the history of this country, our president has died while in office. Likewise, eight times in the history of this country, eight vice-presidents have unexpectedly assumed the mantle of POTUS (Nixon’s giving way to Gerald Ford isn’t included). With his most recent book, historian Jared Cohen tells the story of those eight accidental presidents and how they changed this country – some for better, some for worse.

Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution by Michael Behe

The latest book from the intelligent design proponent Michael Behe has been roundly criticized and demonized by the scientific establishment. So be it. In this book, Behe purports to demonstrate how the devolution that courses through nature is a major obstacle to the established scientific orthodoxy of evolution.

The Problem of Democracy: Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein

I’ve always been a sucker for the presidents Adams, especially John Quincy. This book weaves together the narratives of our second and sixth presidents’ lives demonstrating that our country would’ve been served to have played closer heed to their anthropological and, hence, political insights. First and foremost, the Adams foresaw the slide into shallow popularity that a democratic form of government engendered. Barreling full tilt into the 2020 presidential election, Isenberg and Burstein’s book seems sadly prophetic, albeit too late to halt our slide into further cultural degradation.

Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship by Jacob Shatzer

How are Christ followers to navigate a future bent on transcending human limitations? Does the integration of A.I. with our humanity create ethical quandaries for Christians? If you doubt the validity of those questions, as well as similar questions involving transhumanism, this book is for you. If you understand the grave ethical implications created by technologies encroachment into our humanity, this book is also for you. If, like me, you’re attempting to synthesize those two polar questions, this book is definitely for you.

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

First published in the late 1960s, The Power of the Dog tells the story of two middle-aged brothers who are cattle ranchers in 1920’s Montana. With their lives inseparably intertwined their entire lives, including sharing the same bedroom the entire time, the two brothers relationship is upended after one brother brings his new bride home. Some reviewers call this a “Cain and Abel” parable. Some reviewers are astounded at the modern themes coursing through a 1960s novel. For me, I love a good story and have heard that The Power of the Dog has an explosive surprise ending. If you know the ending, don’t spoil it for me; I want to be surprised.

Living Life Backwards: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson

David Gibson’s short exegesis of one of the Bible’s most enigmatic books is the best thing I’ve ever read on Ecclesiastes. With deep roots in scholarship, Living Life Backwards is ultimately pastoral, encouraging the reader to live eschatologically. While this may not be my favorite book that I’ve listed (currently, Dr. Vanhoozer’s book owns that honor), if you only read one book from this list, make it this one.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough

Whenever I discover a new book by the esteemed historian and brilliant writer David McCullough, I don’t even bother to read reviews; I simply order the book. The Pioneers was no different. Based on the inside of the book’s jacket, McCullough relied greatly on little known pioneer diaries and letters to construct his retelling of the hearty, nation-building people called the pioneers. Other than that, I know nothing about the book, yet am excited about the prospect of cracking this one open.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

A literary fiction about two African-American boys stuck in a Jim Crow era reform school in Florida. The infamous school that the book is ostensibly set in, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was real and, by all accounts, was horrifying. Having known people who spent time in reform schools and having heard their horror stories, I will approach The Nickel Boys with equal parts fascination and dread.

The Story of Britain – A History of the Great Ages: From the Romans to the Present by Roy Strong

Does a one-volume history of Britain sound overly ambitious to you? It does to me, too. Especially one that’s less than six-hundred pages. However, I have heard and read good things about Sir Roy Strong’s latest book. My anticipation far outweighs my skepticism.

40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life by Leland Ryken

Leland Ryken is a treasure gifted by God to His church. Likewise, 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life is a gift. Most books on hymns are weighted towards the history and background of the hymn. This book is a devotional look at the theology of some of our most loved hymns.

White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

I’m attempting to delve into this polarizing book with zero expectations. That’s impossible, I know, but I also believe that it’s important to listen empathetically to those whose ideological commitments clash with our own. On a personal note, last summer, I moderated a discussion about racism. The discussion was among young adults from my church. It was one of the most emotionally and mentally taxing thing I have ever done and I swore to myself that I would never do it again. However, racism exists and we all need to be willing to talk about it, own up to it when necessary, and confront it. I do not know if White Fragility will aid in my own attempts to better understand and confront the sin of racism, or if its commitment to intersectionality will drown out whatever good DiAngelo has to say. See, I’m already compromising my goal of zero expectations. So be it.


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