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A few things you would read if you wanted to figure out what I get out of christianity

Apr 10, 2023

Inspired by Phil Christman’s recent post of the same name, here’s a list of a few things you would read if you wanted to figure out what I get out of Christianity.

Here’s Christman’s own disclaimer regarding his list, which I also make for my own:

This is not, by the way, a canon or an attempt at canon-making. It’s extremely personal, and reflects my personal circumstances, which are narrow, like everyone’s. It reflects where I sit in a set of social structures. Either God came and met me there, despite the badness of those structures, or God didn’t, but if God did, this was how, or part of it. Either way, I make no apology. It’s my life.

In an effort to limit myself, I’m going to try to copy Christman’s basic form: he includes a literary classic, a work from a spiritual writer, an essay, & a classic in Christian apologetics. I, not Christman, have identified these categories, & I realize his list could have been categorized differently. But this keeps things manageable for me, at least for now.

  1. Silence: A Novel, by Shūsaku Endō. What is it to be a Christian in the face of suffering, both your own & another’s? What is it to be a Christian when all you hear is God’s silence? These are the questions that occupy this book. Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation is excellent, too, though no substitute for the book. (Honestly, Les Misérables probably better belongs in this category of “literary classic”—its treatment of themes of justice & mercy in the personal & social lives of Christians has had a deep effect on me, though I can hardly recommend a 650,000+ word novel on a list like this.)

  2. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by Thomas Merton. Most anything by Thomas Merton could fit into this spot, but I’ve chosen Conjectures because I think it shows how Merton weds the contemplative & the active especially later in his life. He wanders a bit in this book & that can make it difficult to follow where he’s going, but it’s nevertheless a rewarding read.

  3. “He Was Crucified, Suffered Death, and Was Buried” (collected in God Still Matters) by Herbert McCabe. This essay, I think, best presents the pithy line Terry Eagleton attributed to McCabe: “If you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you.” (Come to think of it, that Eagleton essay could fit well into this slot, too.)

  4. The Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith, by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt. It may be a bit premature to call this one a classic—though it is very, very good, & destined to be a classic according to Sarah Coakley’s foreword—& the book isn’t exactly an apologetic, but it fits well enough into this category. Fritz—who, full disclosure, directed my master’s thesis while I was a graduate student at Loyola University Maryland—has left an impression on me that goes deeper than I think he realizes. The Love That Is God basically summarizes what I would want anyone to know about Christianity, & so I feel it belongs in this spot.

I’d like to—& I think I will—revisit this list & revise it in the future. (My initial post on this idea names a few others writers whom I’d like to include, especially Dorothy Day.) I might swap out certain entries, I might add more categories to consider, or I might overhaul it entirely. But that, at least for the moment, is what I’d suggest you read if you want to figure out what I get out of Christianity.