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The Staff’s Favorite Books of 2014

The staff's favorite books of 2014
We do a lot of reading here at MacLaurinCSF. And since we’re in the middle of December, it’s the season for year-end book lists.

We thought we’d join in the list-making fun and give you a better sense of the books that have been most fully present in our minds this year. So here are our favorite books of the year:

Andrew Hansen, Program Director

Bryan Bademan, Executive Director

Cheri Burkum, Study Center Manager

Matt Kaul, Communications Director

Media from David Skeel: “True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World”

David Skeel, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, joined us in early November for two talks.

The first was about the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and its implications for legal understandings of religious liberty and corporate personhood.

The second was drawn from his new book True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. In True Paradox, Skeel draws from and is influenced by great Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and others. His own approach to apologetics emphasizes how Christianity, far from failing to account for the increasing complexity of our modern world, actually offers the best understanding of that complexity. He’s particularly interested in our search for justice and our love of beauty, and he outlines reasons for believing that Christianity offers an incredibly compelling explanation of these common human experiences.

Skeel’s talk—which you can download by clicking through to the Soundcloud page on the player below—is a great introduction to his book. We’ll make the video available soon, and we’ll also share audio and video from his Hobby Lobby lecture. For now, though, we hope you enjoy this excellent talk!

Audio and Video for Patrick Deneen, “After Liberalism: Imagining a Humane Post-Liberal Future” (19th Annual Holmer Lecture)


If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s Holmer Lecture, given by Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen, you missed an excellent talk on liberalism (in the broad sense) and its discontents. And if you were able to make it, you probably left wishing you could either revisit some of the points Deneen made, or share the lecture with friends.

Either way, we’re happy to share these audio and video recordings of the lecture with you. The audio recordings is downloadable as an mp3. Feel free to distribute both widely! And don’t miss Deneen’s recommended books on Christianity and politics.

Recommended Books on the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien


If you’d like to pursue some of the themes and ideas that Joseph Pearce explored in his excellent lecture on “Freedom and Slavery in The Lord of the Rings, or you just can’t get enough of Tolkien, here are the books Joseph was kind enough to suggest (his comments on some of the books follow the entries).

Supplement these books with Phil Rolnick’s recommended books on C.S. Lewis. As always, the links take you to Amazon Smile, where, if you’ve selected “MacLaurin Institute” as your charity of choice, we’ll get 0.5% of your purchase!

This book contains his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories,” his allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” and his superb poem “Mythopoeia.” Each of these examines Tolkien’s philosophy of myth, which is awash with his understanding of the sacramentality of beauty.

An invaluable resource.

Everyone should read The Silmarillion.

As regards Chesterton’s priceless influence on Tolkien, the chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy is indispensable.

Patrick Deneen on Democracy and Human Flourishing – Guest Post by Adam Saxton

Democratic theory is particularly inclined toward conceptions of human growth and improvement that reject foundations, appeals to ‘nature’ or invocations of necessary limits and cautions.

~Dr. Patrick Deneen

During our last Mars Hill dinner, we listened to an interview of Patrick Deneen as he discussed his recent book Democratic Faith and his ideas about how democracy and society have become increasingly specialized and divorced from a greater end: human flourishing.

Audio Lecture Summary

Deneen described democracy and culture as being in a post-Aristotelian state. Whereas for Aristotle everything in nature had a natural purpose and end, modern individuals have lost sight of any end for which nature—or they themselves—were fashioned. For Aristotelian thought, all living things in nature have a natural end. Humans are distinguished from the natural world because we require the most cultivation in the form of education, instruction, and discipline to reach our fulfillment.

Deneen emphasized how modern society has increasingly stopped looking to nature for a model as Western philosophy departed from Aristotle in favor of Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke. Unable to agree on an end to society, our increasingly pluralistic culture has divorced democracy from its religious and moral foundations and has viewed democracy as a means for achieving our individual desires.

Deneen then turned to contemporary author Wendell Berry by introducing the concept of detachment. Basically, modern people have become obsessed with their own part of life and have ceased to think of how they make up society as whole. In essence, we have become increasingly detached in all spheres of life, even from knowing the source of the food that constitutes our diet or how our individual lives contribute to the good of our community. Drawing on Wendell Berry, Deneen questioned this specialized vision by claiming that we should seek to understand the whole of society instead of only our particular part.

In essence, we have become increasingly detached in all spheres of life, even from knowing the source of the food that constitutes our diet or how our individual lives contribute to the good of our community.

Using the example of sex within the context of a family, Deneen pointed out that we even tend to think of procreation as being solely the role of a particular family. Challenging us to view the whole, Deneen argued that the family should be viewed within the context of the community and its role in providing continuity for future generations.

Group Discussion

Many of us had just heard Patrick Deneen speak the Friday before, when he visited MacLaurinCSF and the U of M to give his Holmer Lecture, “After Liberalism.” So much of our discussion centered on contextualizing his interview with his broader train of thought. Particularly, we discussed how his focus on viewing things holistically applied to the university. Today, at institutions like the U of M, students are ushered from one specialized professor to the next in an array of broadly associated courses meeting core requirements—with little thought about how each course connects to the others. With professors fashioning only a single aspect of each student, there is little attempt made to provide an integrated liberal arts curriculum that seeks to tie all of the courses together into a holistic education for the individual. Instead of universities having attentive advisors who guide undergraduate students toward the end of being a virtuous, contributing member of society, universities have become quintessential factory assembly lines, with students being educated piecemeal by expert individuals who never see the final product.

Today, at institutions like the U of M, students are ushered from one specialized professor to the next in an array of broadly associated courses meeting core requirements—with little thought about how each course connects to the others.

Applying Deneen’s talk to our daily life, we discussed how we easy it is for us to become detached from many aspects of life in our globalized and increasingly specialized economy. Instead of understanding the time and labor-intensive process of growing food, we see most our sustenance of life coming from a trip to the supermarket. This detachment can cause us to lose our sense of appreciation for other’s efforts and to make ourselves dependent upon means of production far removed from our realm of understanding, much less our own physical effort.

A significant portion of the discussion was also centered on clarifying the meaning behind Aristotle’s use of the term “nature” and how it related to society. Instead of referring to nature as simply a positivistic view of how the natural world operates, Aristotle considers the essence of nature as working toward fulfillment of a specific end. A flower’s seed is not meant to forever remain a seed, but should be planted, nurtured, sprout, and eventually grow into a beautiful flower. Such flowers must then fulfill their end of spreading their own seed and thereby provide continuity. Humans should learn from this view of nature: we need to consider ourselves as having an end that requires our own cultivation through education to prepare us to be part of our community and, ultimately, part of God’s kingdom.

Yet Deneen’s view of the ends of society raises potential dilemmas when applied to a nation of diverse beliefs. After all, the compromise reached in our present pluralistic society was specifically designed to allow for each of us to pursue our own conception of the good as informed by our own beliefs. This is the foundation of freedom of religious expression. In the absence of such flexibility, is there any room for disagreement about what the end of society should be? Or does Aristotle’s nature-based view of the world imply that all people must fall into accordance with one particular end? Is there a potential danger in viewing democracy in light of everyone pursuing the same goal?

Is there any room for disagreement about what the end of society should be?

Or does Aristotle’s nature-based view of the world imply that all people must fall into accordance with one particular end?

Is there a potential danger in viewing democracy in light of everyone pursuing the same goal?

Overall, Deneen provided an intriguing talk that stretched beyond democratic theory to how individuals are supposed to relate with society. By connecting the words of Aristotle and Wendell Berry to our lives, Deneen truly demonstrated how political philosophy informs how we should think about daily life.

~Adam Saxton, Colin MacLaurin Fellow and international relations major


If you’re interested in what you’ve read, check out Patrick Deneen’s book recommendations on Christianity and politics. Audio and video from Patrick Deneen’s Holmer Lecture is forthcoming!

The interview with Patrick Deneen that Adam mentions in this post can be found on volume 91 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal.

Recommended Books on the Inklings: C.S. Lewis

Phil Rolnick - CS Lewis Book Recommendations


Last Wednesday, Dr. Philip Rolnick from the University of St. Thomas joined us to give an excellent talk about creation in the theology and imagination of C. S. Lewis. Rolnick’s talk was the first of three in our fall series on the Inklings—be sure to join us next Friday, 11/14 for the next installment: Joseph Pearce on “Freedom and Slavery in The Lord of the Rings.

We’ll post an audio recording of the lecture soon. In the meantime, check out this list of six books that Phil recommends to those of you who are interested in Lewis (and who isn’t?). We’ll add more books to the post as the Inklings series continues.

The link to each book will bring you to Amazon Smile—remember that if you order through Smile with “MacLaurin Institute” as your preferred charity, 0.5% of your purchase will come back to us! Many of these books should also be available through your local public library, as well.

Here are Philip Rolnick’s six recommended books on C.S. Lewis:

  1. Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis
  2. Michael Ward, The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (a less academic version of Planet Narnia)
  3. Gilbert Meilaender, The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis
  4. Robert MacSwain & Michael Ward, editors, The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis
  5. George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis
  6. Beatrice Gormley, C. S. Lewis: The Man behind Narnia

We hope you’re able to join us for the rest our series on the Inklings!

Patrick Deneen’s Recommended Books on Christianity and Politics

Patrick Deneen's Recommended Reading

This year’s Holmer Lecture, by Dr. Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame, was a focused and intense indictment of modern American liberalism—in the broad, classical sense of the term. Whether or not you were able to make it to the Holmer Lecture (and our apologies if you tried but were blocked by the traffic from the U of M’s homecoming parade), you’ll likely find Deneen’s talk bracing.

We’ll post audio and video recordings from the lecture soon. [UPDATE: Audio and video have just been posted!] In the meantime, check out this list of twelve books that Patrick recommends to those of you who are interested in the subject and are looking for some good reading.

The link to each book will bring you to Amazon Smile—remember that if you order through Smile with “MacLaurin Institute” as your preferred charity, 0.5% of your purchase will come back to us! Many of these books should also be available through your local public library, as well.

Here are Patrick Deneen’s 12 recommended books on Christianity and politics:

  1. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
  2. William T. Cavanaugh, Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church
  3. Chad C. Pecknold, Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to the History
  4. Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought
  5. Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics
  6. Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy
  7. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
  8. Tyler Cowen, Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation
  9. Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
  10. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  11. Wilson Carey McWilliams, Redeeming Democracy in America
  12. Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

(And if you’re on the hunt for book recommendations, don’t forget to check out Ken Myers’s recommended books on faith and reason as well!)

Audio and video from Ken Myers’s visit


We were thrilled to have Ken Myers with us on July 22 for our annual Church & University Seminar. He spoke on the topic “The Life of the Mind and the Life of the Church.” And we’re happy now to make audio and video from the event available to you. Enjoy!

Ken also provided us with a list of recommended books on faith and reason, so if this is a topic that you’re interested in, be sure you check out that list as well.



Fall 2014 Reading Groups: Thomas Piketty, James K.A. Smith, Dorothy Sayers, & more

fall reading group covers

We’re hosting some exciting reading groups this fall, and we’d love to have you join us.


Our reading groups are open to everyone—students, faculty, and community members (the exceptions are #8, #9, and #10). If you’re interesting in participating, you can register here.

1. Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty

  • Facilitator: Jay Coggins (Prof. of Applied Econ, UMN) and Andrew Lucius (PhD candidate in Political Science, UMN)
  • Mondays, 7:30 – 9 p.m.
  • Dates: 9/15, 9/29, 10/13, 10/27, 11/10, and 11/24
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been one of the bestselling and most talked-about books published this year, rare for a nearly 600-page book on economics. Piketty uses empirical economic data from three centuries to argue the controversial thesis that rising wealth inequality is actually a structural feature of modern capitalism, not its corruption or aberration. This group will read Piketty’s book both to understand its analysis of modern capitalism and to consider how Christians should think about and relate to modern capitalism and wealth inequality.

  • Genre, subject: Non-fiction, economics
  • Required reading: 100 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 3 (high)
  • Keywords: capitalism, wealth, economics, history, income, inequality


2. The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy Sayers

  • Facilitator: Kathryn Wehr, MA, MCS (Adjunct faculty in Theology at North Central)
  • Dates/Time: Thursdays, 6:30 – 8 p.m., Sept. 25 – Oct. 30
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

In the midst of WWII, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a series of radio plays for the BBC entitled, The Man Born to Be King which both shocked and delighted British listeners because of the way Jesus spoke colloquial English – instead of the King James Version – and was shown to be truly human as well as truly divine. Sayers was convinced that the Gospel told well is the most exciting story ever told. This group will read these twelve radio plays aloud together, considering how Christ is being portrayed alongside the cultural and religious setting of wartime Britain.

  • Genre, subject: Drama, the life of Jesus
  • Required reading: 20-30 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 1 (low)
  • Keywords: drama, radio, Jesus, Gospels, Dorothy L. Sayers, WWII, Inklings


3. First Things Reader’s Group

  • David Hoffner, MA and Paul Calvin, MA
  • Dates/Time: Second Wednesday of each month, 8:30 p.m., starting Sept. 10
  • Location: Blue Door, Longfellow (3448 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, 55406)

This group meets each month to discuss articles in the newest issue of First Things. If you’re not a First Things subscriber, feel free to stop by the MacLaurinCSF Study Center to read the latest issue in the comfort of our living room. (We’ll even make you a free coffee!)

At the group’s first meeting, they’ll be discussing the August/September issue. Several of the articles from that issue are available for free on the First Things website.

  • Genre, subject: Essay, faith and culture/public life
  • Require reading: Up to ~70 pages/ meeting
  • Difficulty: 2 (moderate)
  • Keywords: First Things, public life, culture, politics


4. Toward a Christian Environmental Stewardship

  • Facilitator: Derek Rosenberger (PhD candidate in Entomology, UMN)
  • Dates/Time: TBD

This groups meets in conjunction with the Au Sable Grad Fellows Program, and is open to U of M faculty and students (and non-U of M participants by approval). Please contact us if  you are a graduate student (MA, PhD, or Postdoc) in an area of natural sciences and are interested in learning more about the Au Sable Grad Fellowship.

  • Genre, subject: Essay, environmental stewardship
  • Require reading: ~20 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 2 (moderate)
  • Keywords: environment, stewardship, natural resources, creation care, Au Sable, science


5. How (Not) to Be Secular by James K. A. Smith

  • Facilitators: Andrew Garnett and Andy Bramsen (Assistant Prof. of Political Science, Bethel)
  • Dates: Wednesdays 9/10, 9/24, 10/8, 10/22, 11/12, 11/19
  • Time: 7 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

With this book, philosopher James K. A. Smith provides a field-guide to Charles Taylor’s epoch-making but dense A Secular Age. Smith both explains the arc of Taylor’s narrative of modernity and illustrates it through examples from contemporary literature. This is Taylor applied for the pastors, lay leaders, and anyone else who wants to better understand the place of religion in modern society.

  • Genre, subject: Non-fiction, sociology of religion
  • Required reading: 30 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 2 (moderate)
  • Keywords: secularization, Charles Taylor, religious belief, modernity


6. Science and Faith: A New Introduction by John Haught

  • Facilitator: Steve Aldridge, MA, MS
  • Dates: Thursdays, 6:30 – 8 p.m., Sept. 25 – Oct. 30
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Science and Faith: A New Introduction is a refreshing departure from the often contentious faith and science debates. Haught examines three different models of the faith and science relationship: conflict, contrast, and convergence. We’ll consider how these models work out in different areas of the faith-science dialogue, and examine our own assumptions about the faith and science relationship

  • Genre, subject: Non-fiction, science and religion
  • Required reading: 35 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 2 (moderate)
  • Keywords: science, religion, John Haught, reason, belief


7. Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams

  • Facilitator: Dave McEachron, MA
  • Dates: Tuesdays,  9/30, 10/7, 10/14, 10/21, 10/28
  • Time: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Richard Adams’s Watership Down has been a much-beloved adventure novel since it was first published in 1972. The narrative follows a group of rabbits who possess their own highly developed language and culture. When their home is threatened, they’re forced to venture out into the world to find a new home and begin a new community. This reading group will consider the book both as a classic adventure tale and—using theologian Stanley Hauerwas’s essay on the book as a guide—as a meditation on politics, morality, and community.

  • Genre, subject: Fiction, fantasy adventure
  • Required reading: 100 pages/meeting
  • Difficulty: 1 (low)
  • Keywords: Richard Adams, community, politics, society, fantasy, adventure, rabbits


8. Undergraduate Reading Group: God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis

  • Facilitators: Jordan McGurran and Glory Hall
  • Dates/Time: TBD
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center


9. Graduate Student Reading Group: The Weight of Glory and Other Essays by C. S. Lewis

  • Facilitators, Dates/Time, and Location all TBD


10. Faith and Business Student Reading Group: Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer

  • Facilitator: TBD
  • Dates: Fridays, 9/26 – 11/21
  • Time: 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center


Again, if you’re interested in participating in any of these groups, here’s the link to the registration page.

Ken Myers’s Recommended Books on Faith and Reason

Whether or not you were able to attend our Church & University Seminar this summer, you probably know that Ken Myers is one of our most insightful, well-read Christian thinkers.


We’ll have audio and visual from the seminar available soon [update: it’s available now]. And as a bonus follow-up to the seminar, Ken provided a list of the best books he’s read on the relationship between faith and reason. Without further adieu, here are his recommendations.


Ken Myers’s Recommended Books on Faith and Reason
  • Ryan T. Anderson, “Benedict, Islam, Faith, and Reason” (First Things blog)
  • Benedict XVI, A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education and Culture
  • Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?
  • Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate
  • Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • Paul Helm, editor, Faith and Reason
  • John Paul II, Fides et Ratio / On the Relationship between Faith and Reason
  • Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • Mark A. Noll and James Turner, The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • James V. Schall, S.J., The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking
  • James V. Schall, S.J., The Regensburg Lecture
  • D. C. Schindler, The Catholicty of Reason
  • Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges, O.P., The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • James W. Sire, Discipleship of the Mind: Learning to Love God in the Ways We Think (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)