Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Communicators of the Gospel

Communicators of the Gospel – Why those aspiring for a career in ministry should consider a Bachelors of Arts in Communications Studies.

Quincy Wheeler, Associate Pastor in East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, B.A. in Communications Studies from Baldwin-Wallace, M. Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary.

As I begin my post-seminary career in ministry, I am thankful on a daily basis for my decision to major in Communications Studies in my undergrad work at Baldwin-Wallace. When I first looked at Baldwin-Wallace, I debated majoring in Religion, as I knew that I wanted to be involved in ministry. However, knowing that seminary would help further my knowledge of Scripture, theology and church life, I tried to identify a course of study that would be most helpful to me as a minister of the Gospel. After a brief consideration, the clear choice became to enroll in Baldwin-Wallace’s Communication Studies program.

I would like to outline ten ways that my communication studies degree continues to help me, on a daily basis, engage in my work as a pastor. I will also try to distinguish what elements a Communication Studies degree provides that may not be found in a degree in Religion.

(1)Communications Studies honed my public speaking skills. In whatever ministry you try, you will need to speak publically. Communication studies taught me how to develop a well-organized speech, how to speak without looking at notes, and how to use gestures, vocal movement and diction to drive home a point.

(2)Communication Studies developed my conflict resolution skills. Conflict resolution is probably the single most important skill to learn going into ministry. It is rarely covered in religion or seminary coursework, from my experience.

(3)Studying Communication theory assisted me in understanding dynamics at work in the personal and public settings for ministry. Ministry entirely consists of caring for people as people interact with you and with each other. Communications offers insight into those interactions.

(4)Executing a research project for my Communication Studies degree allowed me to discover ways to collect, interpret and apply meaningful data for ministry purposes. Performing an experiment-based research project taught me data-collecting and analytical skills I utilize every day.

(5)Communications Studies increased my self-awareness of my communication style and my understanding of those around me whose styles differ from my own. I am simply more aware of the communication needs and tendencies of others around me than I would have ever been, had Communication Studies not informed me that those needs and tendencies are there, and offered me tools on how to manage them.

(6)Communications Studies' lessons are easily contextualized. The problem with philosophical and theological truths is that they are not always easily applied. Psychology, also, gets confusing when trying to mix it with the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Communication Studies includes aspects of psychological and philosophical truths that can be easily translated into ministerial contexts.

(7)The primary challenge of the Church in the modern age is encoding the Message… message-encoding just happens to be the primary learning outcome of Communication Studies. We have to communicate the Gospel to a society that increasingly does not believe in God, nor does it accept the revelation of God in Scripture as authoritative. We must discover how to communicate the Good News so that it sounds like good news and reaches a new generation. Communication Studies provides a wealth of information on how to make messages meaningful, relevant and transformative.

(8)Communications Studies focus on group dynamics and organizational communication processes, both incredibly important aspects of ministry which receive little attention in seminary. As I chair committees and serve on ministry teams, I constantly turn to insights I received in my undergraduate studies in Communications. As I continue to interact with staff members and help with church visioning, I remember and apply lessons I learned in my Organizational Communication classes.

(9)Communication Studies teach the importance of good listening skills, which is often-times overlooked as we seek to engage in the task of communicating the gospel. A pastor who is unwilling to listen to his people will soon speak a message that no one wants to hear, let alone understand. The study of communication demands development of listening skills.

(10)Communication Studies add important marketing and public relation insights which seminary training rarely addresses. Packaging of the Gospel has to be noticeable and appropriate, concerns amply addressed in Communication classes.

As I continue into a career in ordained ministry, I am constantly grateful that I chose to major in Communication Studies. If you are attending a non-Bible college, I would highly recommending minoring in Religion (for basics in Scripture and theology) and majoring in Communication Studies before seminary. I really benefited from and loved my seminary training. However, the focus of seminary was at least 75% on knowledge-based learning, and maybe 25% on practical matters relating to communicating the Gospel. Between the preparation offered by Communication Studies and the education received at Seminary, however, I feel adequately prepared for ministry and effectively resourced for the challenge of preaching the Gospel in any context.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Five Reasons from Great Literature to Watch the Film, "The Giver"

I highly recommend that everyone see the movie The Giver because it has a theistic worldview that portrays life as valuable and understand the true nature of love. As I watched the movie for the second time, I heard and saw a variety of things that reminded me of different works of literature I have read. So, in interest of getting you to watch the movie, here are five connections I made:

1. The Terrible Burden of Free Will. The primary argument between the Giver and the Chief Elder is whether people are capable of handling the free choice. The Chief Elder argues that "people are week. When given the choice, they choose wrong." Did you know that this same argument occurs in unforgettable fashion in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's book, The Brother's Karamazov? In the chapter entitled, "the Grand Inquisitor," a Spanish church official confronts Jesus Christ with the accusation that His devotion to protecting human free will was the greatest mistake of all history. And, you have to read the book to see Jesus' response, and Dostoyevsky's, to this charge. (Might be quicker to watch the Giver, but I recommend watching AND reading!)

2. The Risk of Love. The Giver and Jonas argue that the price of love is worth the cost of suffering, pain and loss. The movie even includes a Christmas carol at the end that, to me, brings to mind the moment when God demonstrated His willingness to embrace our suffering nature by becoming incarnate in Jesus. This theme is found in many Scriptures, but extremely prominent in C.S. Lewis' books Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. In Out of the Silent Planet, the angel who rules Mars and its people speaks of how God, on earth, has "taken strange counsel and dared terrible deeds." One of the greatest theological conundrums is the risk that God takes in becoming human... all out of love.

3. Sameness is not Equality. The Community eliminates race and envy by eliminating all significant differences and demanding obedience to a social standard. In Wrinkle in Time, Madeline Le'Engle evaluates the differences between being the same and being equal, establishing that sameness eliminates the need and desire to love, and love brings an equality to all humanity.

4. Life is Precious and Valuable. The turning point of the movie involves the life of a baby, which certainly speaks to our culture in which infant life is often seen as an inconvenient consequence of sex. In Kazuo Ishiguro's book, Never Let Me Go, a dystopian reality in which colonies of clone humans are raised, educated and harvested for their organs illustrates the incredible value of life. The book revolves around the desire of one of the clones to have a baby, and challenges its readers to think through the meaning of existence.

5. All Things are a Miracle. The film teaches us to see all the events of our lives and wonders of the world around us as miracles. No book (outside the Bible) teaches this lesson better than G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. Chesterton tells us that trees grow fruit because they are magic trees. Water runs downhill because it is enchanted. And, God commands the sun to rise, the flowers to bloom, the body to breathe anew each day, each moment because He never ceases to take joy in His creation. Can we do the same.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Short Reviews of Fifty Books - Part 2 - Quincy's List

Short Reviews of Fifty Books - Part 2 - Quincy's List

May 30, 2014 at 11:03am
My last post reviewed the books on the list of top 50 books to read before you die. As part of a course I am doing for seminary, I have now added reviews of 50 books I have read additional to that list that I have enjoyed and/or felt were significant. As the above list had two non-fiction books (the Bible and the Diary of Anne Frank), a book of short stories (Men Without Women), poetry (The Canterbury Tales), a play (Hamlet), as well as books written primarily for adults and primarily for children, I have also tried to include some of this diversity in my own list (while, as with the first list, the majority of these selections are novels). Also, between the two lists, no author was allowed to have more than one book (thus, no repeated selections from Shakespeare, Lewis, Dickens, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, etc.).
  1. On the Incarnation by Athanasius – My personal favorite of the early church fathers, Athanasius here presents a Biblical defense of the divinity of Christ, and describes the significance of His incarnation in beautiful terms that would define Christian spirituality for all time.
  2. The City of God by Augustine of Hippo – Taken together with Athanasius (who speaks from a more Eastern spirituality while Augustine speaks more from a Western approach), Augustine provides the basis for almost all of modern theology. His ideas are beautiful and Biblically-based with far-reaching impact in religion, science and philosophy.
  3. Paradise Lost by John Milton – I believe that Milton’s epic describing the creation and fall of man and the redemptive work of God is unequaled by any other writer who has tackled these themes. Milton’s description of the Son’s willingness to become human brought me to tears the first time I read it. I believe all Christians should read at least some of Paradise Lost.
  4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Dostoyevsky wrote with a strong belief in Christ and the sacred nature of the divine image stamped on the human heart informing all his works. The story of this book is fascinating and horrifying, mysterious and hilarious, enriching and devastating. In order to engage with the problem of human suffering from a Christian perspective, read this book.
  5. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis – Though Lewis, one of the foremost theologians of the past century, wrote many amazing works of fiction, I find his retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche to be the best, both spiritually and aesthetically-speaking. The book displays the true nature of love which causes us to become our true selves as seen by the Divine Lover rather than engage in an idolatrous worship of the false self to which our wayward hearts are drawn.
  6. Holy Sonnets by John Donne – Donne is my favorite poet, and, in these poems, he displays his deep faith and correspondingly deep struggle with faith. As he is unwilling to offer simple spiritual platitudes or empty human philosophy, his passion and desire for Jesus drip from every line. Please note especially Sonnet number 10 and Sonnet number 14.
  7. The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – In my continuing love for Russian authors, brilliant Solzhenitsyn emerged from Communist Russia to challenge the world with its need to come to grips with a personal morality emerging from the love of God and neighbor. In this book, he describes the creation of hell in human existence by those who worship the god of self. There is a scene toward the end of the novel with a cartoon cat on a paper cup that you HAVE to read.
  8. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton – Paton’s story of redemption and forgiveness with the South African apartheid as the background shines with truth about God and the nature of suffering among his creatures. Pastor Kumalo struggles but holds on to the truth in the middle of the fire of temptation and hatred.
  9. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton – In this book Chesterton dreams a nightmare of life without order, in which physical existence provides the only meaning for life. In the midst of this story, Chesterton’s abiding belief in the goodness and joy inherent in knowing God emerges as the one, true source of hope. Chesterton is my favorite author.
  10. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams – This novel uses the genre of horror and suspense to present a picture of what it means to carry one another’s burdens, a command of Scripture which Williams takes literally, with practical applications in the spiritual realm. Williams’ tremendous literary skill brings Christian spiritual warfare into classic literature.
  11. Watership Down by Richard Adams – Adam’s fantasy world of rabbits, their wars and epic journeys, is extremely well-written and provides one of the best pictures of self-sacrificial leadership available in literature. The characters are memorable and the story is exciting.
  12. Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor – O’Connor breaks all the rules of writing in order to create this book of short stories which provides unparalleled insight into the fallen psychosis of modern humanity, and the grace scattered therein by the love of God.
  13. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – I find Stegner to be a highly underrated American author with an ability to see through the stark isolation of the post-pioneer American West to the longing within every human heart to love and to be loved. In this story, he does so by examining the tragedy that occurs in a marriage between a Western couple made up of an Eastern girl and a son of the pioneers, and the lingering effects on their descendants.
  14. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro – Munro gets my vote for the best active, living author today. Her short stories display a devastatingly perceptive insight into life, with an ability to bring the mundane and unnoticed to brilliant light with simple images and unfailingly well-chosen prose. This is just one of many excellent short story collections by the author.
  15. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder – I think all Christians should read this book to gain an eternal perspective. Wilder displays with heart-breaking effectiveness the eternal nature of love, using a tragedy to bring his characters and readers face-to-face with timeless truth.
  16. Phantastes by George MacDonald – A challenging read (not long, yet hard to understand), but also an unforgettable encounter with truth and beauty as viewed through a fantasy of unrequited love. The book blends traditional forms of poetry, prose, free verse and epic writing seamlessly, all from a deeply Spiritual, Biblical worldview.
  17. The Chosen by Chaim Potuk – Potuk examines the lives of two Jewish teens in Brooklyn in the 1940’s, using cultural and religious mores to bring out a delightfully obvious and yet incredibly potent metaphor about God’s Will and the nature of human suffering. Please read this book.
  18. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – If you read Thomas Hardy, you will quickly gather two things: (1) He is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and (2) he had relationship troubles. This is one of the happier of his novels, in which readers find a story that speaks about the true nature of married love, which Hardy believes is founded on friendship and self-sacrifice. Additionally, all Hardy books deal, at some level, with questions of the meaning of existence.
  19. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – Though some of Montgomery’s stories descend to the level of sentimentalism, most of her books are extremely well-written, overflowing with a hilarious and thought-provoking ability to perceive and describe people who seem like they walked into her pages out of our lives. Anne is an admirable heroine in all ways.
  20. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers – Sayers is the first of several incredibly talented female writers of mystery stories to be featured on this list. In Lord Peter Whimsy, Sayers came up with a shining example of both nobility and the angst that often accompanies it. She also finds clever ways to remind us of the hope found in faith in the goodness of God and of His people.
  21. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – Christie is truly the master of the short detective novel and in this book and in Then There Were None her powers to surprise and shock her readers are clearly on display. Hercule Poirot speaks out a clear moral vision of “I do not approve of murder” as he wreaks his unflinching vengeance on those who take life.
  22. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner – Here, Faulkner attempts to imagine the mind of a mentally incapacitated man, with echoes of Joyce’s Ulysses present, and carries off the literary effort spectacularly. While reading Faulkner is always uncomfortable as he refuses to soften the hard blows life deals to those who fall before its strokes, I think it’s important for Christians to enter the sphere of great suffering to find the hope and humanity there. Content Issues: Some language and mild sexual innuendo.
  23. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – You are probably familiar with this story from various movies, but the adventure of Jim and company in search of the long-lost treasure is exciting, well-written and contains great depth in an effort to examine good-and-evil, compassion and greed, and courage and fear.
  24. Dracula by Bram Stoker – Stoker’s book has some issues in writing style, but it has a clearly developed spirituality of good and evil, in which the fight with the dreaded vampire requires the strength and fortitude of all those involved. It’s an exciting and entertaining read! Content Issues: Slightly gory at times.
  25. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott -  Scott’s noble tale of a 12th Century English knight and his fair love, as well as the fairer girl whose love for Ivanhoe goes unreturned is truly beautiful. His novel also presents an implicit argument for equality among races and clearly demonstrates the nobility of sacrificing oneself for the good of others. Plus, it has Robin Hood in it. It’s just a great read.
  26. A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – In this often overlooked treasure, Peters creates the memorable character of Brother Cadfael, a Welsh, ex-Crusader turned Benedictine monk in medieval England who spreads a message of grace and redemption among all with whom he interacts. The best thing about this book is that it is the first in a lengthy series, each story including a romance, a murder mystery and meaningful reflection on the truth of God’s love.
  27. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Stowe’s novel, which as Lincoln said “started a big war,” speaks with moral vision and spiritual strength across the centuries. Her writing style is not particularly excellent, at times dripping with sentimentality, but she towers among many other authors for the depth of her faith and conviction to present the truth.
  28. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut – Vonnegut is not a Christian, yet, he often borrows lumber from the moralist’s lumberyard to infuse his sardonic stories with the light of the possibility of better days ahead for his belabored heroes and heroines. In this book, he examines the life of a man of privilege who decides to care for the needs of the ordinary. It is well-written and filled with incisive challenges to many assumptions of modern life, as all Vonnegut books are. Vonnegut is a great writer to read in order to be challenged, which I think is important for all Christians.Content Issues: Some profanity and mild sexual innuendo.
  29. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Ishiguro would get my vote for best active, living writer after Munro, as he has written several excellent books. This book follows the life of an English serving-man who realizes he is losing the life that he has always known, while at the same time discovering hidden longings to express feelings, to find love, and to appreciate beauty. It is a beautiful and strangely heart-rending story.
  30. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz – Sienkiewicz, a Polish author, often fills his books with violently brave Polish warriors unswervingly dedicated to protecting their families and honoring their Lord. In this book, however, Sienkiewicz follows the persecution of Christians under Nero by telling the story of the love between a Christian and a secular Roman. The book is well-written and, most notably, contains many memorable moments that challenge us to go deeper in our dedication to following Jesus.
  31. The Princess Bride by William Golding – Many Christians have no doubt seen the Princess Bride movie, but may not know that there is a book that is just as good, if not better, than the film production. The book tells an enchanting love story, but also delves into philosophy and questions about the meaning of life, proclaiming the truth that true love conquers all.
  32. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy – Percy’s life is fascinating; raised in a well-respected, liberal Protestant family in the South U.S., he became a devout Catholic following tragic events in which his grandfather and parents committed suicide. This story follows a young man in the South who discovers a growing sense of isolation and dissatisfaction with the world that leads him to wonder if there is more to life. Beautifully written and haunting.
  33. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – Bradley started writing novels in his late 60’s, and his books are a refreshing interruption of post-modernism with the free-spirited, chemistry-loving sleuth, Flavia de Luce, an 11 year-old girl in the countryside of post-War England. Rather than being simply mystery stories, Flavia’s adventures seek to find the underlying order and beauty which will make sense of a world trying to recover its reason.
  34. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle – Le’Engle’s book is written about the problem of evil and directed toward children and young adults. As Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin search the universe for a missing father, Le’Engle introduces deep themes regarding suffering, equality, and the power of love.
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Bradbury is a talented and creative writer, and in this book, he imagines a world without books, and, so, gets at the heart of why reading and writing are important. His tale of suspense and a dystopian world makes a strong case for the human need to express oneself in art.
  36. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Hawthorne novels get a lot of hate because people are often forced to read them in school, but his classic tale of a forbidden romance and living amidst the condemnation of a community truly explores some timeless themes of forgiveness and courage in the aftermath of a terrible mistake.
  37. The Kiterunner by Khaled Hosseini – A beautiful story of tragedy and redemption, this book explores the conflict between the unbelievable power of hatred and the unending strength of forgiveness. The setting is Afghanistan, and the friendship of two young boys there. Content Issues: Some language and a scene in which a child is raped (not described graphically).
  38. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov – This play follows a Russian family through the end of serfdom in Russia and the beginning of a more modern era. The play finds an incredibly subtle point of balance between comedy and tragedy, examining what makes our lives worth living.
  39. Right Ho, Jeeves! By P.G. Wodehouse – While I debated taking this book off the list, I decided that being able to make people laugh is an incredibly important gift in a writer. No one has a greater awareness of the absurd, a more unerring ability to turn a phrase to make you laugh out loud than P.G. Wodehouse. Remember, a cheerful heart is good medicine!
  40. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – At surface level, this story seems to be about a woman who decides to commit adultery, and, I don’t know about you, but I would rather not read a story about that. However, if you read this book, you will encounter layers and layers of meaning, in which Flaubert brilliantly explores the never-ending consequences of human choice.
  41. The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes was my first literary love, and I think Doyle does not get enough credit for his creativity and development of complexities within his characters. This is my favorite of his novels, full of excitement and heart.
  42. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – As with Uncle Tom’s CabinPilgrim’s Progressis not included primarily for writing skill, but for truth in spiritual content. Bunyan is the master of allegory, and reading this book is a devotional experience as well as an entertaining one.
  43. Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides – This book is a historical account of the rescue of American soldiers from Japanese prison camps at the end of World War II. This is absolutely my favorite piece of historical writing, and it speaks to the value of every human life. It also makes me proud to be a United States’ citizen, as we are probably the only country that would use valuable resources and irreplaceable assets to rescue soldiers who were as good as dead.
  44. In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – Continuing in the line with Uncle Tom’s Cabinand Pilgrim’s Progress, this book is not very well-written, but it is very challenging and encouraging to a person’s Christian walk. The question under consideration is what difference it would make if we were each to determine to live as Jesus lives, and love as He loves. Reading this book never fails to bring me closer to my Lord, and that is about as high a compliment as I can give.
  45. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov – This modern addition to Russian novels I love follows the journey of Viktor and his pet penguin through post-Soviet society in Russia, learning how to love and how to avoid being killed by the mafia. The book is well-written, funny, strange and, ultimately, hopeful. I am excited to hear that Kurkov wrote a sequel to it. Content Issues: Some profanity.
  46. It’s a Magical World by Bill Watterson – The primarily American genre of the comic strip deserves some attention, and, while I love Walt Kelly and Charles Schultz, I think the greatest comic strip in terms of artistic ability and skill at addressing issues of significant philosophical and spiritual value was Calvin and Hobbes. Plus, it’s hilarious!
  47. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – This collection of short stories is powerful and challenging. Carver is a very masculine writer, and his stories get straight to the heart with no interest in beating around the bush. He is an excellent writer.
  48. The Trial by Franz Kafka – As one of the early giants of post-modernist writing, Kafka deals constantly with isolationism and meaning-making in a world without purpose. This book is a challenging read, but engaging with it in the attempt to find how Jesus provides hope in our despair provides an excellent chance for moral and intellectual growth.
  49. Beloved by Toni Morrison – Morrison’s evocative ghost story deals with the long-lasting effects of physical and spiritual bondage, and the freedom that is found in forgiveness and love. Content Issues: Some sexual imagery and mild language.
  50. The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling, Jr. – I am a big fan of sports in general and baseball in specific. In this creative novel, Schilling imagines a world in which a baseball executive breaks the color barrier by filling a professional baseball team with players from the Negro Leagues. This is definitely the most obscure book on the list, but it is written at a good level and inspires us to think about how being willing to go against the way of the world brings freedom. Content Issues: Some sexual innuendo and some strong language.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Short Reviews of the 50 Books to Read Before You Die

My friend Austin wants me to note that some of these books I "read" by listening to unabridged audiobooks. I tried to explain that you can actually get MORE out of a book by listening to it, but he still says it's not technically "reading." Anyway, here is a review of each of the 50 books on the list of "50 Books to Read Before You Die" sold in many bookstores on a bookmark. I have ranked them based on which I thought were the best, but please note that some of them I do NOT recommend reading.
  1. The Bible – The only book that is not simply a book. Perhaps this might be a good time to plug my favorite versions: 1984 translation of NIV, New King James, Holman Christian Standard Version and New American Standard. I rank these based on readability and accuracy to my limited knowledge of the original text (incorporating both word-for-word and dynamic equivalence necessary for accurate translation).
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Not only the greatest American Novel, the greatest fiction work of all time. The symbolism stays carefully hidden beneath the surface at all times, letting the action drive the story. Yet, but scratch the surface, and the human problem and the Divine solution scream out at you. Content Issues: Use of profanity and discriminatory language, but this is presented as wrong.
  3. Hamlet by William Shakespeare – Though I put To Kill a Mockingbird as the greatest work of fiction, Shakespeare was the world’s greatest writer. Hamlet is my favorite of his plays, with timeless reflections on the fleeting nature of human life and the struggle of existence.
  4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Unfortunately, the Lord of the Rings often gets discounted as some kind of glorified fantasy novel, brought to popularity by a subculture of devoted fans. The book is actually a sophisticated look at life, truth and God through a carefully crafted mythology.
  5. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I think Steinbeck is one of the best writers the world has produced, and his account of the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of great trials soars. However, I do have to mention that his collectivist ideology leaks through into monologues that I feel are somewhat forced. With that said, I still rank this as the second-greatest novel written by an American – incredibly well-written and inspiring. Content Issues: Language, some sexual discussions and imagery and irreligious philosophizing
  6. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – There are numerous beautiful romances written in Don Quixote, the story of a noble, righteous madman in a world that has lost its understanding of what is true, what is beautiful and what is courageous. It’s long, but worth your time. Content Issues: Some mild innuendo and mild crudeness
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Tolstoy presents the devastating effects of adultery and the emptiness of self-sufficiency, as well as the hope that is found in love and in God. Content Issues: Though the sexual nature of the adultery is handled with sensitivity, it is still presented.
  8. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Is it possible to call this book underrated? The story of Huck’s journey on the Mississippi River is an inspiring tale of one human soul’s rejection of the oppressive norms and expectations of the society surrounding him. Twain achieves wit, humor, pathos, sadness and inspiration in a way few other authors have ever done. Content Issues: Use of racial slurs, but the book is extremely anti-racist in its message.
  9. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – English was not Conrad’s first language, or his second, yet he wrote this classic work in English, detailing Marlow’s horrific discovery of the abuse perpetrated by Kurtz against natives of the Congo, and the dreadful judgment that happens as a result. This book speaks against colonialism, fix-it projects that Westerners attempt to force upon indigenous cultures, and, most importantly, against the insidious nature of evil in the human soul.
  10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – What a beautiful, magical, enchanting book! The adventures of Rat, Mole, Badger and the incorrigible Mr. Toad should be read by parents to children everywhere. Lessons of courage, friendship, and piety are brilliantly presented here.
  11. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – I read this book for the first time while completing the 50 book challenge and I loved it! The book considers the idea of whether one person can become an agent of God’s vengeance on earth. A great adventure!
  12. Anne Frank – Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – I find it interesting that this is the only non-fiction book besides the Bible on this list. While that fact may seem odd, I certainly cannot argue with its inclusion, or its representation of the memoir genre. Anne is a genius and, more important than that, she has the soul of a saint. The tragedy and warning of the book is in seeing in its pages the brutal weapon of human violence descending to crush this beautiful flower of sweetness and light. Every human life is valuable and has immortal significance.
  13. Lord of the Flies by William Goldman – The Lord of the Flies has a lot of detractors, because it is a brutal book often forced on unsuspecting school children. When I read it, I was amazed at its popularity in the secular world because it clearly endorses a Biblical view of human sinfulness. Goldman brilliantly illustrates the depravity of human nature, in dialogue, dramatic action and even sophisticated incorporation of religious and mythical allegories. Content Issues: Extremely dark book, violence and some mild language.
  14. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – This book’s account of a young boy’s spiritual journey through life and the Pacific Ocean may be the greatest novel of the 21st Century so far. Martel brilliantly presents the complicated relationship between faith and doubt, and does so with humor, sadness, joy and empathy. Content Issues: Some dark imagery and a certain level of religious pluralism here should be read with careful discernment.
  15. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – This book gets my vote for the best fiction account of romance, as we see strong femininity and strong masculinity interacting to create a beautiful, self-giving love that results in a marriage that has delighted and inspired generations of readers. Admittedly, it MAY be more of a book aimed for girls than guys, but guys should at least read it so they can better understand women.
  16. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Although I adore the Christmas Carol, I would have chosen one of Dickens’ other classics over it for this list. However, the Christmas Carol is shorter and is a story of redemption that gets at the heart of Christmas as no other work of fiction has.
  17. 1984 by George Orwell – Orwell unflinchingly demolishes the totalitarian edifice in this brutal book. I suppose we get tired of hearing one party or another being called totalitarians, but I think this book illustrates the importance of ensuring individual freedom from government control. The government exists to protect our rights, not give us the rights it wants us to have. Content Issues – Mild language and brief, non-explicit sexual content.
  18. The Stranger by Albert Camus – Existentialist literature is usually a synonym for “depressing read,” and such is certainly the case here. However, Camus has a strange sympathy for the despairing plight of his subjects, and his existentialism leaves one hoping for more, and looking for the answer, an answer which is only found in Jesus. Content Issues: Some language, mild sexual imagery, and disturbing events.
  19. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells – In a groundbreaking effort that still defines science fiction to this day, Wells describes the invasion of the earth by aliens, and ends up presenting a moving tribute to the triumph of human nature and the goodness of the world on which we live.
  20. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – As most know, Wilde’s lived a troubled life, and I believe you can see his struggle with the ravaging effects of sin on a person’s life and heart in this book. Human sexuality, love and lust, selflessness and selfishness are beautifully and tastefully portrayed here. Whatever else may be said about Wilde, he was a great writer. Content Issues – Dark imagery, mild language, some innuendo.
  21. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway – You either love or hate Hemingway, and I love him. How he can use such spare, manly language to evoke emotion and offer great insight on life, love and the human experience is beyond me, but I appreciate it, nonetheless. Content Issues – Mild language
  22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope – A social satire of England in the 19th Century, this book is long, but worth the read if you enjoy this genre. Trollope follows an aristocratic English family falling is social graces, cleverly pointing out the value of hard work and selfless love along the way. Sardonic, yet also delightful in tone.
  23. The Quiet American by Graham Greene – Greene does a masterful job of portraying the desolation caused by unjust war, violence taken against the innocent. Greene is a moralist (a refreshing change from many books listed below) and you can see his longing for a higher ground of truth and morality on which humans can relate to each other.
  24. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Another dystopian classic, Huxley imagines the totalitarian government which is the opposite of Orwell’s. Whereas Orwell’s government is modeled more closely after the totalitarianism of the far right, Huxley’s is modeled after the friendly, yet still just as destructive, oppression of the far left. Huxley’s vision is brilliant, and especially chilling as we look at abuses common in modern government. Content Issues – Some language and sexual content (not explicit)
  25. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I wanted to dislike this book, but I can’t help but enjoy it and appreciate what it does. Salinger creates one of the iconic outsider in Holden Caufield, whose heart is bursting with a love and care that he simply does not have the emotional or social tools to express. I would also like to note that Holden, while claiming to be an atheist in the book, shows an amazingly accurate insight into the character and person of Jesus. Content Issues – Constant swearing and some sexual content (none explicit)
  26. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – The Bronte sisters each present their own picture of romance gone awry, though Emily’s version is bleaker and more philosophically deep. I don’t particularly enjoy reading this book, because it’s frankly dismal, but I do think it is important in exposing the subtle oppression that women have often undergone in society. I just wish it was somehow easier to read, but I guess that’s the nature of the problem.
  27. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster – Many of the books on this list focus on the plight of the minority, the outsider, and I believe this is one of the best to attempt to do so. Additionally, the portrayal of the English presence in India speaks a powerful message against the abuses inherent in colonialism.
  28. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – The other Bronte book, this one is a little easier to read, though still heavy with oppression and societal chains. This is one I recommend getting on audio book to appreciate fully the poetry inherent in Bronte’s pose.
  29. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – The most eerie book on the list, as Plath described the mental breakdown and recovery of her main character here just shortly before the author killed herself. I find the book to be important because of its unparalleled insight into the diseased mind, and its revelation of the humanity and brilliance of the life found there. Content Issues: Some language and some sexual content (somewhat explicit)
  30. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri – I found this work to be slightly repetitive, but Dante’s trip through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven is rich with religious symbolism and brilliant reflections on the nature of life, of humanity, of God and of evil. Definitely worth reading, though if we were choosing poems written over 200 years ago, I would prefer a Milton selection over Dante.
  31. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – The classic shipwreck story, Crusoe displays great endurance and the story presents a compelling argument for the brotherhood of all humans.
  32. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald can write extremely well, and he presents a classically bleak portrayal of the emergence of post-modernism in the early twentieth century in this novel. My issue with Fitzgerald is that he often times comes off as too self-aware and arrogant in his writing. Content Issues: The novel revolves around an extra-marital affair, but it is not explicit.
  33. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – There should be a special place in all our hearts for writers who can be silly and brilliant, hilarious and tragic, nonsensical and lyrical at the same time. Few do it better than Carroll here!
  34. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – Rowling has violated some basic principles of being an author in my opinion (i.e. adding information about her characters that was not revealed in the novel after the fact) but she crafted a story here that speaks eloquently to the true nature of love and nobility. The character of Severus Snape is especially memorable. The last book, in particular, displays Rowling’s bent towards a Christian worldview. Content Issues: Some mild language. I do not find that Rowling encourages witchcraft at all, but certainly someone with a sensitive conscience in that regard would do well to avoid these books.
  35. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier – I highly enjoyed this mystery tinged with elements of horror. It has a bold ending, and presents the terrifying idea that evil forces can indeed conquer and oppress the forces of love. Is anyone truly who we think they are?
  36. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – The fact that Frankenstein is so low on this list is more of an indication of the greatness of the novels above it than an indication of failures on its part. This novel explores the experience of otherness and the dangers of scientific advancement made without the careful oversight of conscience. Shelley’s prose is overdone, at times, however, and preachy in its promotion of some na├»ve beliefs in the goodness of human nature. Content Issues: Violent at times.
  37. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon – Haddon writes brilliantly from the perspective of an autistic teen, and evokes sympathy on the part of the reader for those who are marginalized and misunderstood in their midst. The book functions well as a mystery and a family drama, but it is an emotionally difficult read at several points. Content Issues: Strong language, and the main character ridicules belief in God.
  38. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – A book of clever social satire presented mostly in allegorical entanglements in which Gulliver finds himself. The book does not speak much to the universal themes important to every person, but it is very well-written and entertaining. Content Issues: Some bathroom humor and mild innuendo.
  39. Moby Dick by Herman Melville – Moby Dick is a long, wordy book, but it is incredibly well-written. However, when the theme of the novel is uncovered, we find that Melville believed God to be a capricious, uncaring being, and the whale functions, at least at one level, as an avatar for his twisted image of the Creator. It’s a blasphemous book, but reading it makes you thankful to know the real God, revealed in Jesus.
  40. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – A funny yet perverse book (I do not find the book funny when it is perverse). When it avoids the lower levels of humor, it is devastating in its critique of the machinations of war. There are several scenes and quotes that effectively portray the struggle for meaning in a world that seems to have gone mad.Content Issues: Language, sexual situations (some explicit) and rude humor.
  41. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – An exhilarating exploration of the spaces that exist between madness and sanity, between totalitarianism and anarchy, between sexual aggression and sterility, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has redeeming qualities, but it is a very difficult read, psychologically speaking. Also, it does not always present sin as sin. Content Issues: Some sexual content (not explicit) and some strong language
  42. Ulysses by James Joyce – Ulysses brilliantly alternates between free verse poetry, drama, question and answer, narrative, stream of consciousness and point of view writing to describe a day in the life of an Irishman and his wife. I thought the best written portion was actually Penelope’s (Molly Bloom) at the end. Joyce is clearly a genius, but his novel, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, seems written to satisfy himself and illustrate his powers. The lasting significance of its themes is unclear, and it is often times crude, confusing and inexplicable. Content Issues: Sporadically strong sexual content and some language. Very crude at times.
  43. On the Road by Jack Kerouac – This book offers a glimpse into an interesting period of American history as beatniks travel the country in the late 40’s and 50’s. Kerouac has an admirable appreciation for the variety of personality and spirituality inherent in human existence, and I believe you can clearly see his awareness of spiritual longing among his characters. However, the book clearly diminishes the disastrous effects of sin at some points, and, in terms of form, often seems repetitive.Content Issues: Strong language and pervasive sexual content (while not explicitly described)
  44. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – While the poetry is excellent in form, and there are many interesting insights into life in Chaucer’s time period, I feel this collection of tales is highly overrated, and functions better as a joke than as a serious work of literature. Content Issues: Several moments of crude content and innuendo
  45. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul – The story deals with the resistance of oppression by an African village, also illustrating the dangers of colonialism and imperialism. However, the book lacks sophistication and seems wordy and dull at several points. Also, the adulterous affair held between two main characters is disgusting and holds no value for the consideration of readers. Content issues:Some sexual content and language. I do not recommend this book.
  46. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – I struggle with this book. The book clearly presents some sinful behavior as normal, and the writer’s bizarre religious and political beliefs emerge awkwardly now and then. However, there are some moments of great triumph in this book that illustrate the humanity and value intrinsic to every human belief, and speak against the evil of oppression everywhere. Content Issues: Sporadic strong sexual content (explicit) and sporadic strong language. I do not recommend this book.
  47. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Perhaps the greatest achievement of this book is the attempt by an American male to put himself in the place of an oppressed, Asian woman living half a century before him. In some places, he carries the effort off brilliantly, and in others, it seems confused and self-congratulating. Content Issues:Sexual content (explicit) and some language. I do not recommend this book.
  48. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – This may be the oddest of all the books, as, in many places, this book seems simply a glorified romance novel. The dialogue is obviously subpar, in my opinion. However, with that said, Faulks makes some profound points about the destruction wrought in human life by strife, conflict and fear, and some of his symbolism is beautifully managed. Content Issues: Strong, very explicit sexual content in several places and some strong language. I do not recommend this book. I would say this is the only book on this list that presents sexual content with the purpose of titillating its readers, so please know I do not approve of this.
  49. Money by Martin Amis – While this is a crude and disgusting book (the main character is trying to make a pornographic film) that I would never own, nor read again, I do believe that Amis, ultimately, presents the emptiness of a hedonistic lifestyle and the futility of a selfish existence. And, his thoughts about the destructive nature of our society’s focus on money rings true in many places. Content Issues:Pervasive strong language and explicit sexual content throughout. I do not recommend this book.
  50. His Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman – This book is fairly well-written, though preachy at times. The story is exciting, engaging and original. However, Pullman is practically a Satanist in his orientation in this story. The books are incredibly dark and literally present evil as good. Perhaps most disturbingly, these books were marketed for children. Content Issues: Demonic nature is glorified. Mild language and some sexual overtones. I do not recommend these books.