There are probably few reference books that vacationers will drag down to the beach this summer. And though I make a living in academia, there aren’t many works of reference that I want to read from cover to cover. I love history because I love stories, storytelling and engrossing narratives—not because I’m taken with the facts, figures and dates that populate reference books.
The Big Questions in Science and Religion, by Keith Ward (Templeton Foundation Press). Of the many excellent overviews of current issues in the interaction of science and religion, this one is readable and balanced, a good start for a broad audience. A theologian conversant with scientific issues, Ward covers ten questions, from the big bang to revelation and divine action.
A quick word on your “if it feels good, don’t do it” distillation of my message. We can dig into this more as we go, but for now I’d just point out that at various times, Christianity—and particularly my own Catholicism, the faith of carousing Irishmen, hedonistic Italians, and “give me chastity, Lord, but Lord not yet” sinners in every time and place—has been scolded for being altogether too worldly, too pleasure-loving, too forgiving of the weaknesses of the flesh.
A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Christian Marriage, by Richard R. Gaillardetz (Liguori). If marriage is the place where the majority of us “work out our salvation” before God, then a book on its spirituality is essential.
They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer, by Patrick D. Miller (Fortress). Though billed as a study of biblical prayer, this is the most helpful and comprehensive study of the Psalms we have that moves from critical data to acute theological sensibility.
Nothing outrages students in Jonathan Sheehan’s course on the history of Christianity at the University of California at Berkeley more than the writings of John Calvin. What kind of God is it who would predetermine the ultimate destiny of all humans before the creation of the world? students wonder. Reading Calvin, he says, helps students see the power of an argument and consider the consequences of their own beliefs and commitments. Sheehan wants students to wrestle with Calvin with “integrity, reason, creativity, and charity . . . intellectual virtues that we need in our modern world” (New York Times, September 12).