Our best books of late 2017

There have been some stellar books published in the last months of 2016 in the area where faith, spirituality, history, science and culture meet. Here are just seven which caught our eye and look well worth reading.

Hidden Christmas
The Surprising Truth behind the Birth of Christ, by Timothy Keller
Everyone thinks they know the Christmas story, but New York author Tim Keller takes a fresh look at the arrival of Jesus, with a strong focus on the women in the birth stories. Says the Methodist Recorder, ‘In this surprising take on the Christmas story, the author reveals how, by focusing on the women in the Christmas narratives, a colourful, scandalous and refreshing tale of grace emerges.’

A Dictionary of Atheism
By Lois Lee and Stephen Bullivant
This new dictionary by OUP offers more than 150 definitions of words and phrases related to atheism. They include key concepts such as pluralism, New Atheism and secularization, but also popular terms such as Flying Spaghetti Monster, celestial teapot and Darwin Fish. The breadth of the dictionary is impressive, including historical events, significant publications, key thinkers and philosophical terms. Well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the atheist landscape today. The Kindle edition only £4.41.

The Divine Dance
The Trinity and your transformation, by Richard Rohr
The Trinity is supposed to be the central, foundational doctrine of our entire Christian belief system, yet we’re often told that we shouldn’t attempt to understand it because it is a ‘mystery’. Should we presume to try to breach this mystery? If we could, how would it transform our relationship with God and renew our lives? The book is recommended by Bono: ’Finding the sweet spot where contemporary science meets ancient mysticism, and theology meets poetry, The Divine Dance sketches a beautiful choreography for a life well–lived.’

Destroyer of the Gods
Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, by Larry W Hurtado
The arrival of Christianity in the Roman world brought its followers into conflict with Roman culture. The new religion was labelled as stupid, irrational, wicked, hateful, obstinate, anti-social, perverse and even atheistic. Christianity was unlike a faith ever seen before. It utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. It offered a new and different kind of religious identity, not based on ethnicity. It insisted its adherents behave differently: embracing Christian faith meant behaving differently, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Larry Hurtado’s fascinating and accessible book shows how Christianity was a radical departure for the people of the Roman Empire.

The Beauty and the Horror
Searching for God in a suffering world, by Richard Harries
In a world of random pain and suffering, how can there be hope, meaning and a God who loves his creation? Drawing on a wide range of modern literature, Richard Harries argues that belief in the resurrection and hope in the face of death is fundamental to faith, and suggests that while there is no final intellectual answer to the problem of evil, we must all, believer and nonbeliever alike, protest against the world and seek to change it, rather than accept it as it is. Jane Shaw of Stanford University says: ’With all his characteristic clarity of thought, Richard Harries probes how we can find God in suffering and horror as well as beauty.’

Enriching our Vision of Reality
Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue, by Alister McGrath
Alister McGrath’s latest book is for scientists with an interest in theology, and for Christians and theologians who are aware of the importance of the natural sciences. McGrath is the natural person to write it, since he has degrees in chemistry, molecular biology and historical and systematic theology. He is also a former atheist. The book focuses on three figures who have stirred up debate about science and religion: Charles Coulson, Thomas Torrance and John Polkinghorne. It also features a number of conversations between science and theology.

The Evolution of the West
How Christianity has shaped our values, by Nick Spencer
The historian and author Tom Holland recently said he had changed his mind about the cultural importance of Christianity, saying that it was a lot more important than we generally think. In this fresh exploration of our cultural origins, Nick Spencer looks at the big ideas that characterise the West, such as human dignity, the rule of law, human rights, science, and even – paradoxically – atheism and secularism. He traces the varied ways in which many of our present values grew up and flourished in distinctively Christian soil. ‘All readers, whatever their religious, non-religious or political persuasions, should read this,’ says Sughra Ahmed, Chair of the Islamic Society of Britain.

Main photo: Toffee Maky