Book of the Semester

For each semester of the academic year (fall and spring), the Seminary chooses a book to be read and discussed by the entire seminary community – students, staff, and faculty. The chosen books are provocative, appealingly written, and inexpensive. “We might not agree with nearly everything in the books,” says President emeritus, Cornelius Plantinga Jr., “but they would help us see God, the world, and ourselves with new eyes.”

We encourage your community to join us by creating your own reading groups. Enjoy your discussions!


Gary Schmidt
Okay for Now
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.
Town Hall meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 18, 2013.



Purple Hibiscus Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
Purple Hibiscus
(Anchor, 2004)From the Inside Flap:
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.Town Hall: April 2, 2009 – with John Rottman, John Eigege, Susan Felch (real)
Infidel Ali, Ayaan Hirsi
(Free Press, 2008)From Publishers Weekly:
Readers with an eye on European politics will recognize Ali as the Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament who faced death threats after collaborating on a film about domestic violence against Muslim women with controversial director Theo van Gogh (who was himself assassinated In this suspenseful account of her life and her internal struggle with her Muslim faith, she discusses how these views were shaped by her experiences amid the political chaos of Somalia and other African nations, where she was subjected to genital mutilation and later forced into an unwanted marriage. While in transit to her husband in Canada, she decided to seek asylum in the Netherlands, where she marveled at the polite policemen and government bureaucrats. Ali is up-front about having lied about her background in order to obtain her citizenship, which led to further controversy in early 2006, when an immigration official sought to deport her and triggered the collapse of the Dutch coalition government. Apart from feelings of guilt over van Gogh’s death, her voice is forceful and unbowed—like Irshad Manji, she delivers a powerful feminist critique of Islam informed by a genuine understanding of the religion.
Barnes, M. Craig
Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls
(Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, Baker Book House, 2003)One translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy opens with the words, “Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.” Many of us can identify with this confession. We might be pressing on bravely in the search for paradise, moving from better job to new town to bigger house, but the truth is that we are lost. M. Craig Barnes draws on Dante’s pilgrimage as a parallel to our own search for paradise. Never sidestepping the difficult truth of our situation, Barnes begins with the disconcerting news that paradise is lost and we can’t go home again. Our great comfort and hope, however, is that we are never lost to God; in fact, he travels with us in our sojourning and all roads belong to him. Barnes, a compassionate pastor, shows how we can move from being transient nomads to pilgrims who are at home with God.
Lecture: September 30, 2004 – “Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls”, M. Craig Barnes
Lecture: September 30, 2004 – Panel Discussion – Themes of the Book, M. Craig Barnes
Bass, Dorothy C.
Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time
(San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2000)A spiritual reconsideration of our frantic approach to life, Receiving the Day invites readers to embrace the temporal landmarks of our lives as opportunities for a deeper relationship with God and one another. Bass explores what the Christian faith tells us about time, and offers her rich insights to those who wish to confront the issue from a theological or practical perspective. As a part of the Practices of Faith series, this book is intended for both investigators to the faith, and believers who wish to grow in their relationship with God.
Breslin, Jimmy
The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez
(New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2002)Breslin, a news columnist from New York City, tells the story of a young Mexican man coming to Brooklyn to follow the American dream. Through the story, Breslin exposes “broader issues of municipal corruption and America’s deadly and controversial border policy.”
Brooks, Geraldine
March: A Novel
(New York: Penguin Group, 2005)From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated the character of the absent father, March, and crafted a story “filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man” (Sue Monk Kidd). With “pitch-perfect writing” (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’s place as a renowned author of historical fiction.
Buechner, Frederick
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale
(New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1977)Buechner writes, “Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him preach this overcoming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that ‘catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears,’ which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.” This book explores preaching as telling the truth about life, through all of its tragedy, comedy, and unbelievable truth.
Buechner, Frederick
Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who
(New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1979)In this second book of his popular lexical trilogy, Frederick Buechner profiles more than 125 of the Bible’s most holy and profane people – and one whale. In his lively and witty prose, Buechner brings to life such moments from scripture as Adam’s pangs of regret for a remembered Eden, Delilah’s last glimpse of Samson as they dragged him away, and Lazarus’ first impressions upon rising from the dead. To read Peculiar Treasuresis to realize that many of these legendary figures are not who we thought they were. But they are – in their human dreams, ambitions, and imperfections – very much like us.
Lecture: April 22, 2004 – “Peculiar Treasures”, Frederick Buechner
Blood Brothers Chacour, Elias
Blood Brothers
(Chosen Books, Baker Book House, 1984, 2003)As a child, Elias Chacour lived in a small Palestinian village in Galilee. The townspeople were proud of their ancient Christian heritage and lived at peace with their Jewish neighbors. But in 1948 and ’49 their idyllic lifestyle was swept away as tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed and nearly one million were forced into refugee camps.An exile in his native land, Elias began a years-long struggle with his love for the Jewish people and the world’s understanding of his own people, the Palestinians. How was he to respond? He found his answer in the simple, haunting words of the Man of Galilee: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”In Blood Brothers Chacour blends his riveting life story with historical research to reveal a little-known side of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the birth of modern Israel.Town Hall – November 19, 2009, with Doug Howard, Albert Hamstra, Micah Schuurman (moderated by Scott Hoezee) (real)
DeBoer, Kathleen J.
Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently
(Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice, 2004)DeBoer writes, “Males and females are psychologically different. For most of my life, it seemed that everybody but me already knew this.” In this book, she describes the differences between the competitive natures of men and women, using anecdotes from her own athletic and coaching experiences. DeBoer also uses this analysis to give hints for both men and women on how to better work with, play with, and understand each other.
Lecture: January 6, 2004 – “Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently”, Kathleen DeBoer
Silence Endo, Shasaku
(1966) Originally published in 1966–and soon hailed as one of the great international novels of the 20th century–Silence tells the story of persecuted Christians and missionaries in 17th-century Japan. Along the way questions of faithfulness, of mission, of apostasy, and of divine providence all get addressed in a gripping novel that will raise many important issues for us all as we read this work together (Scott Hoezee). Town Hall: November 15, 2012 – with Rich Sytsma, Reita Yazawa, Albert Strydhorst
Plainsong Haruf, Kent
(New York: Vintage, 2000)Plainsong is the deeply felt story of eight characters in Holt, Colorado (maybe the town is the ninth character) whose lives reveal the human condition in unforgettable ways. Cruelty, confusion, sorrow, compassion, honor–all these qualities emerge under the pressure of circumstance, revealing that small-town life is simply life, much in need of redemption and so often falling short of it. The story and its prose are at once simple and deep.
Made to Stick Heath, Chip and Dan Heath
Made to Stick
(Random House, 2007)From School Library Journal:
While at first glance this volume might resemble the latest in a series of trendy business advice books, ultimately it is about storytelling, and it is a how-to for crafting a compelling narrative. Employing a lighthearted tone, the Heaths apply those selfsame techniques to create an enjoyable read. They analyze such narratives as urban legends and advertisements to discover what makes them memorable. The book draws on examples from teachers, scientists, and soldiers who have been successful at crafting memorable ideas, from the well-known blue eye/brown eye exercise conducted by an Iowa elementary school teacher as an experiential lesson in prejudice following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to conversations among Xerox repairmen.Town Hall: October 30, 2008 – with Duane Kelderman, John Rottman, Mary Hulst (real)
Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
(New York: HarperCollins, 2005)In Freakonomics, economist Steven Levitt and journalist co-author Stephen Dubner ask peculiar questions such as “What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?” In this unorthodox study of economics they set out to discover the hidden truths surrounding everyday life — and sometimes not-so-everyday life as well.
Lischer, Richard
Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery
(New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2001)In Open Secrets, Lischer tells not only his own story, but the story of New Cana and its inhabitants. It’s an awkward marriage at best: a young man with a Ph.D . in Theology, bursting with ideas and ambitions and determined to improve his parish and bring it into the tweny-first century. and a community that is ‘as tightly sealed as a jar of home-canned pickles’. This masterful memoir brings to life the clash of cultures and personalities that marked Lischer’s pastoral tenure, and the ways in which the inhabitants of New Cana opened their arms to him.
Cover of The Undertaking Lynch, Thomas
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
(Penguin, 1998)“Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople.” So opens the singular testimony of the poet Thomas Lynch. Like all poets, inspired by death, Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or to cremate them and to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director. In this wholly unique collection of essays, the two vocations meet as Lynch shows himself to be a competent functionary of mourning-dispensing comfort and homespun wisdom to the grief-stricken-as well as a poet poignantly tuning language to the right tones of private release. In its homages to parents who have died and to children who shouldn’t have, its tales of golfers tripping over grave markers, portraits of gourmands and hypochondriacs, lovers and suicides, The Undertaking displays an impressively wide vocal range, from solemn, nostalgic, and lyrical to acerbic, sprightly, and unflinchingly professional. (From the back cover).Lecture: December 1, 2005 – with Thomas Lynch Lynch gave at Calvin Theological Seminary on December 1, 2005
Enrique's Journey Nazario, Sonia
Enrique’s Journey
(Random House, 2007) Enrique’s Journey, the account of a 17-year-old boy’s harrowing journey to America find his mother in America, first came out in the as a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times. After their publication, the articles won two Pulitzer prizes, the George Polk Award for International Reporting, and the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.Town Hall: January 7, 2008 – with Sonia Nazario (real)
Paterson, Katherine
Jacob Have I Loved
(New York, NY: Harper Trophy, 1980)In Jacob Have I Loved Sarah Louise Bradshaw describes her twin sister as ‘The pretty one‘ … ‘The talented one‘ … ‘The better sister,’ the one who now seemed to be taking everything – Louise’s friends, their parents’ love and her dreams for the future. It is time for Louise to be the special one. However, this means that Louise must first figure out who she is, and then find a way to make a place for herself outside her sister’s shadow.
Paterson, Katherine
Bridge to Terabithia
(New York, NY: Harper Trophy, 1977)Jess Aaron, of Bridge to Terabithia, longs to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. After a summer of practicing, he can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But, on the first day of school, Leslie Burke, a new girl, boldly crosses over to the boys’ side of the playground and outruns everyone. Despite this seemingly unpromising start to a friendship, Jess and Leslie become inseparable. Together they create a magical kingdom named Terabithia where they reign as King and Queen. Then one morning, tragedy strikes. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy is he able to understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.
Lecture: October 09, 2003 – Discussion of Katherine Paterson’s books, Gary Schmidt
Paton, Alan
Cry, The Beloved Country
(New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1948)Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice.[it] is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.
Robinson, Marilynne
Gilead: A Novel
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father–an ardent pacifist–and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend’s wayward son.This is also the tale of another remarkable vision–not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames’s soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.Town Hall: April 21, 2006 – with Marilynne Robinson (real)
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez Rodriguez, Richard
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard RodriguezHunger of Memory is the story of Mexican-American Richard Rodriguez, who begins his schooling in Sacramento, California, knowing just 50 words of English, and concludes his university studies in the stately quiet of the reading room of the British Museum. Here is the poignant journey of a “minority student” who pays the cost of his social assimilation and academic success with a painful alienation – from his past, his parents, his culture – and so describes the high price of “making it” in middle-class America. Provocative in its positions on affirmative action and bilingual education, Hunger of Memory is a powerful political statement, a profound study of the importance of language … and the moving, intimate portrait of a boy struggling to become a man.
Schmidt, Gary
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy
(New York: Clarion, 2004)Although technically classified as a work aimed at a young reading audience, Schmidt’s work transcends such boundaries by telling a story that is freighted with deep insights into life, lyric vignettes of love and friendship, and pointed lessons on those facets to society — including Christian society — that tear at the fabric of our common humanity. The story centers on Turner Buckminster, a pastor’s son who has to adjust to life in a small town where his father recently accepted a call to become pastor of a church in Phippsburg, Maine. Turner’s friendship with Lizzie Bright, a young black girl from a nearby island, provides much of the book’s drama and pathos. Professor Schmidt won two coveted prizes for this work: the Newbery Medal and the Printz Book Award. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy is an indelible work that will stay with the reader long after the last page is (regrettably) turned.
Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition Smith, James K.A.
Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition In 2009, Time magazine cited New Calvinism as one of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” This book provides pastoral and theological counsel, inviting converts to this tradition to find in Calvin a vision that’s even bigger than the New Calvinism might suggest. Offering wisdom at the intersection of theology and culture, noted Reformed philosopher James K. A. Smith also provides pastoral caution about pride and maturity. The creative letter format invites young Calvinists into a faithful conversation that reaches back to Paul and Augustine, through Calvin and Edwards, extending to Kuyper and Wolterstorff. Together they sketch a comprehensive vision of Calvinism that is generous, winsome, and imaginative. Town Hall: November 10, 2011 – with James K.A. Smith
Abide with Me Strout, Elizabeth
Abide with Me
(Random House, 2007)In the late 1950s, in the small town of West Annett, Maine, a minister struggles to regain his calling, his family, and his happiness in the wake of profound loss. At the same time, the community he has served so charismatically must come to terms with its own strengths and failings-faith and hypocrisy, loyalty and abandonment-when a dark secret is revealed. In prose incandescent and artful, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered-life, love, God, and community-within these pages, and all is made new by this writer’s boundless compassion and graceful prose. (from hardcover edition of the book).Town Hall: April 18, 2008 – with Elizabeth Strout (real)
Olive Kitteridge Strout, Elizabeth
Olive KitteridgeAt the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. “Olive Kitteridge” offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
Taylor, Barbara Brown
Speaking of Sin
(Boston, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000)In Speaking of Sin, Barbara Brown Taylor brings her fresh perspective to a cluster of words that often cause us discomfort and have widely fallen into neglect: sin, damnation, repentance, penance, and salvation. She asks, ‘Why, then, should we speak of sin anymore?’ And yet abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away; it will simply leave us speechless before its effects and increase our denial of its presence in our lives. Ironically, it will also weaken the language of grace, since the full impact of forgiveness cannot be felt apart from the knowledge of what has been forgiven.
Timmer, John
God of Weakness: How God Works Through the Weak Things of the World
(Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources)“Why does God allow the poor to be exploited and the innocent to suffer?” “If God holds so much power, why does he not assert himself more?” Timmer responds to these and other similar questions in the chapters of God of Weakness. He argues that although God is all-powerful, he often disguises his power in weakness to achieve his purposes.
Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit Tippet, Kristi
Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human SpiritAlbert Einstein did not believe in a personal God. And his famous quip that “God does not play dice with the universe” was a statement about quantum physics, not a statement of faith. But he did leave behind a fascinating, largely forgotten legacy of musings and writings—some serious, some whimsical—about the relationship between science and religion and his own inquisitive reverence for the “order deeply hidden behind everything”. Einstein’s self–described “cosmic religious sense” is intriguingly compatible with twenty–first–century sensibilities. And it is the starting point for Einstein’s God.
Tutu, Desmond M.
No Future Without Forgiveness
(New York: NY: Image Books, Doubleday, 1999)The establishment of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never had any country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy both by exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors. At the center of this unprecedented attempt at healing a nation was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom President Nelson Mandela named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Archbishop Tutu offers a remarkable account of the process in No Future Without Forgiveness, and reflects on the insights he has gained by helping South Africa move through this painful experience.
Letters from the Land of Cancer Wangerin, Walter Jr.
Letters from the Land of Cancer A diagnosis of lung cancer drove Wangerin not to despair but to writing, his usual mode of making sense of things. He tells his family it’s an adventure; cancer is his wrestling with God and the big questions, as mortality gets right up in his face. A series of 22 letters—addressed mostly to friends to convey news of his progress—and seven meditations recapitulate the long, pain-filled journey through chemotherapy and radiation treatment so strong it eventually, literally, takes his breath away, diminishing tumors and lung capacity. Town Hall: April 21, 2012 – with Walter Jr. Wangerin
Winner, Lauren F.
Girl Meets God: A Memoir
(Random House, 2003)The child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Lauren F. Winner chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren was increasingly drawn to Christianity. Courageously leaving what she loved, she eventually converted. In Girl Meets God, this appealing woman takes us through a year in her Christian life as she attempts to reconcile both sides of her religious identity.Here readers will find a new literary voice: a spiritual seeker who is both an unconventional thinker and a devoted Christian. The twists and turns of Winner’s journey make her the perfect guide to exploring true faith in today’s complicated world.Fireside Chat: January 13, 2006 – with Lauren F. Winner (real)