Here I offer to you a variety of books that I have found intriguing, enlightening, and entertaining.
New Revised Standard Version – Many people ask me what translation of the Bible I prefer. The translation used in most Episcopal churches is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Like any English translation, the translators made a few funky decision, but overall it attempts to retain both the poetic and the technical characteristics of the original languages. Plus, both the HarperCollins Study Bible and the Oxford Bible Commentary use the NRSV.
An Introduction to the New Testament, Raymond E. Brown – This one volume commentary on the New Testament is both accessible and extensive. It served as one of my seminary textbooks, and I still refer to it when preparing sermons or teaching material.
Readings in St. John’s Gospel, The Most Rev. William Temple – William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II. This small commentary on the Gospel of John recognizes higher biblical criticism, but focuses on spirituality and devotion. As a sign of piety, Temple wrote this entire commentary while kneeling.
Systematic Theology, Robert Jenson – Jenson is a Lutheran theologian with strong affinities for both Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. His dense but readable two volume Systematic Theology addresses the whole breadth of Christian theology.
Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe, The Rt. Rev. N.T. Wright – Wright may be considered the world’s leading New Testament theologian, and we as Anglicans claim him as our own. This three part series is accessible to the average reader. Highly recommended!
The Hauerwas Reader, Stanley Hauerwas – Hauerwas is one of the leading theologians in the United States. He hails from Mount Pleasant, Texas, and is able to bring together his blue collar upbringing and Ivy League education into erudite, witty, and snarky theological commentary. This book is a collection of essays and articles.
A History of the Episcopal Church, The Rev. Dr. Bob Prichard – Prichard was one of my church history professors at seminary. This short history of the Episcopal Church does a wonderful job of condensing four hundred years of history into just three hundred pages.
The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez – I have found this two volume book to be the gold standard for church history. It’s not the most intriguing prose, but it covers two thousand years of history methodically and adequately. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity is a close second, but his editorial comments throughout the book are irritating.
God’s War, Christopher Tyerman – This giant volume contains everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t want to know) about the crusades. It is thorough, exhaustive, and insightful.
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville – Hands down, the best piece of fiction ever composed. Rich with biblical images, details of 19th century whaling, and topped off with a beautiful surprise at the end, Moby-Dick is a perennial must-read.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon – Chabon is my favorite modern American fiction writer. He breaks down the classical notion of the hero, rescuing his protagonists from their situations in ways that make you satisfied, but not quite happy. Chabon’s writing is pure genius, full of hilarious dialogue and witty descriptions of the most common objects. (Freebie: Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road takes the archetypal story of the Old West gunslinger and recasts it into the 12th century along the Silk Road.)
A Song of Ice and Fire, George. R.R. Martin – Popularized by the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” this is eventual seven volume fantasy series is the American Lord of the Rings. Just to warn you – Martin loves to kill off main characters; he makes a sport of it. So don’t get too attached to anybody! What I really enjoy about this series, though, is the ambiguity between good and evil. Evil characters do good things, good characters do evil things. The moral spectrum in this series is a large swath of gray.