This month’s On My Table comes from Nathan Campbell. Nathan is a husband to Robyn, a father to Soph (5), Xavi (almost 4) and Ellie (almost 2); he’s also a pastor of Creek Road Presbyterian Church’s South Bank campus (but the names and ages for all those people would take too long to write down), and a blogger at st-eutychus.com. Because he’s a total Christian ministry cliché he also likes coffee, but he tries not to just paint by numbers when it comes to coffee so he helped start a social enterprise cafe in West End and he has a stupidly big commercial machine plumbed in at home, so that’s not totally boring.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I have about 5o unfinished books on my kindle that I work through simultaneously, to keep me on my toes a bit and help me think about how things integrate. I’m currently reading lots of books about public Christianity and culture (I’m always reading lots of books about public Christianity) including Confident Pluralism by John Inazu, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, and Culture Makers by Andy Crouch, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, Becoming the Gospel by Michael Gorman. I’m also reading bits of Subversive Christianity by Brian Walsh, which was written in the 90s and feels really prophetic and amazing, in hindsight.
Oh, and a bunch of fiction, at the moment the one I’m into most is Fool Moon, the second Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher. I’m perpetually slogging my way through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest as well.
What was the last book you left unfinished?
I don’t finish lots of books; the last one I deliberately abandoned because I didn’t want to finish it/life is too short was the second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Stephen Erickson, somebody had told me that he was a fantastic ‘world builder’ (I’d been reading lots about ‘mythopoeia’ (fantasy world building) after really loving Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories which basically argues that world-building (and exploring new worlds) is a thing we do because we’re made in the image of the world building God.
Is there a book you feel guilty for not reading?
No. Life’s too short, and there are too many books to feel guilty about not reading them all. There are plenty of books I just go ‘nah, I don’t want to read that’… I don’t read much John Piper (for varying reasons) and sometimes I feel bad.
Is there a book you wish you’d written?
I recently listened to Mike Cosper’s Stories We Tell, as an audiobook, which was the latest in a long line of books I wish I’d written that I’d like to give to lots of people. James K. A. Smith writes lots of books where for the first half, as he does cultural analysis and anthropology, I’m like ‘man, this is how I see the world’ but then I find his application a little bit constricting, You Are What You Love is pretty brilliant. I also love Stanley Hauerwas’s Resident Aliens, and Michael Gorman’s Cruciformity, those are two of the more important books I’ve read in shaping how I think about church and the Christian life. I wrote my thesis at college on the image of God, and what that is, and I reckon Hannah Anderson’s Made For More and Brian Walsh’s Subversive Christianity are something like the books I’d write on that, if I was going to write one. Most of the time when I read anything by David Foster Wallace I wish I had his brain and his ability to breathe life into sentences so they feel like they’re spoken by some crazy, energetic adult with the ability to pay attention to lots of things at once and weave them all together. I’ve got a few novel ideas in my head and would love to write something one day, I read a novel recently, The Book Of Strange New Things, which, though the protagonist grapples with his Christian faith, shows how faith and life can intersect in meaningful and interesting ways.
What was the last book you gave as a present?
C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity; I bought it for a lady who has just started coming to church. I bought a Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy parody called Zombie McCrombie From An Overturned Kombi for someone, but haven’t given it to them yet.
Best biography you’ve ever read?
I don’t read lots of biographies. But Matthew’s Gospel is right up there… I did enjoy Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. I did not enjoy Alex Ferguson’s autobiography.
What 5 books would you take to a desert island?
I’m guessing the Bible is a given…
Augustine, City of God
I love Augustine, I’d love to finish reading this from cover to cover rather than dipping in and out for study. A desert island seems like as good a place as any… and it’s big enough to keep me going for quite a while. It does seem a little pointless to have a book about how civilisation should be ordered if there’s no civilisation though…
Bear Gryll’s Survival Camp
I’m pretty terrible at the sort of skills you might need to survive on a desert island. I’d want something like this. I’ve never read it, but just googled Bear Gryll’s survival book; cause he’s the kind of person I’d want leading the way.
Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
I’ve been doing lots of reading/thinking around the idea that we’re liturgical animals and that we are shaped by our love/worship (see Jamie Smith’s cultural liturgies series) and that we shape our loves by our habits in connection with the ‘story’ we live in (where we get our picture of what a good/flourishing life looks like). I’d have to rethink what that looks like in the isolation of a desert island setting, and what practices would help me continue to cultivate a love for God and a participation in the Gospel apart from people (and that’s hard, because I think to participate in the Gospel is to share it, maybe I’d write books and hope someone discovers them one day when they come to settle on this island). Anyway; Liturgy of the Ordinary is a fantastic picture of how one woman, Tish Harrison Wells, consciously shapes her life and habits liturgically around the Gospel.
J.R.R Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
I love fiction, especially high fantasy. I haven’t read Lord of the Rings for a few years, but I love the reminder that Tolkien gives us that there’s more to life than just the material world.
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
In terms of sprawling dystopian ‘world building’ this is a masterpiece that is, I think, on par with Lord Of The Rings. The reason I haven’t finished it is every three pages I have to stop and think about how I see the world, or I get caught up in some small observation about a seemingly trivial thing. DFW is like the agnostic (or searching) Tolkien or C.S Lewis, he writes in a world that is haunted by the loss of something transcendent, and I think the bleakness of this world, in a deserted; island context, would be a good reminder that belief in something more isn’t just preferable but true.
What book has most frustrated you?
Born This Way, a book on how Christians should approach sexuality published by Matthias Media. I thought it was pastorally damaging and it made me realise that there’s a massive division between the way people from my Christian tradition (reformed evangelical) think and speak as modernists, to the way the people we live next to think and speak as post-modernists (we need stories and experience to make sense of our world, not just the facts).
What is one book (apart from the bible) you’d encourage every Christian to read?
The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw, a perfect counter-example to Born This Way, that, while it’s about how to make the gospel plausible for same sex attracted brothers and sisters, has such a rich picture of what life following Jesus could (and should) look like that it should shape not just the way we speak, but the way we live together; and Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah which shows something of the richness at the heart of Christian belief in quite an approachable way while staring down some pretty big questions.
How does reading fit into your life?
And what does your routine look like?
I read voraciously I guess; I’m almost never not reading in my spare time, but not just books, I read lots of online stuff from journal articles, to blogs, to tweets. I think what I try to do though is never to be bogged down in finishing one book, or exclusively reading one author (except in fiction, where I like to wait until an author has finished their ‘world building’/story-telling rather than having to wait years and years for the next installment — I’m looking at you George Martin, and you Patrick Rothfuss). So I have lots of unread books going at the same time, usually around a theme (though sometimes not, and that can be fun too), and I think knowledge is more ‘iterative’ than revolutionary, so I try to have these books as conversation partners with each other, and with what I already think, and then I’ll often try to write epic, sprawling, blog series that bring these ideas together, or they’ll get turned into a teaching series at church. But it also means my kindle is full of books that are about 50% read, and I keep adding books faster than I can read them.
I’m looking forward to that desert island… can I take my kindle instead of just five paper books?