On My Shelf: Life and Books with Collin Hansen
On My Shelf is a new feature designed to help you get to know various people through providing a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.
I corresponded with Collin Hansen, editorial director of The Gospel Coalition, about what's currently on his nightstand, what he's learning about following Jesus, his favorite novels and biographies, and more.
What's on your nightstand right now?
I recently finished a couple books I enjoyed for different reasons: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo and The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. I reviewed the first one for Books & Culture and the second for TGC. Guelzo reminded me yet again why war is so horrible even as he inspired me with stories of remarkable courage and sacrifice. Wigg-Stevenson has committed his life to abolishing nuclear weapons and touched me with a biblically grounded, sophisticated, realistic, and yet hopeful take on how we truly make a difference in this world. I'm taking my time reading Sidney Greidanus on Preaching Daniel: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Since I don't preach regularly, I use such commentaries for deeper study so in my regular devotional reading I gain understanding and retention. I also picked off my shelf a book someone gave me for Christmas several years ago: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. I know nothing about mountain climbing, so I'm riveted by the glimpse into an unfamiliar landscape.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
For many years I had a problem with limits. In ministry it's easy to justify self-destructive behavior as a necessary burden of serving the Lord. The work you think is so beneficial to the church looks strangely selfish to others. It took me a long time to realize how much I needed the constraints of family, church, and community. Following Jesus means I must embrace the limitations of my humanity. Wigg-Stevenson is helpful:
We inhabit the portion God gives us. Vocations have, and impart, boundaries. To be called to this means not being called to that, and vice versa. An acceptance of calling therefore means a curtailing of some possibilities for our lives.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
I spend all day following news and commentary on Twitter as I edit reviews, articles, videos, podcasts, books, and curriculum for TGC. Books help me cut through the noise so I know how to aim our editorial efforts at TGC, serve my local church, and walk in faith as a believer in Jesus Christ.
When I meet someone who wants to learn a basic overview of God's plan of salvation, I recommend God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. If they want to understand how Christianity stands against the prevailing ethos of our Western world, I hand them Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen or a more current survey by Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became Nation of Heretics. Jonathan Haidt has helped me see the real source of our motivation and disagreement in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. You probably can't navigate contemporary social debates without the help of a book like Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? Almost every day I draw on the spiritual insight about true religion I learned from Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
Reading George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life made me feel like I walked the muddy roads of colonial America with one of the greatest theologians in church history. It's one thing to read an author from an earlier era and another to understand his day-to-day joys and demands. Something similar happened when I ventured back to the fall of Rome with Peter Brown as my guide to Augustine of Hippo. We can learn from a faithful theologian defending church unity and orthodoxy during a time of cultural decay. Luther is such a seminal figure that it's worth reading more than one excellent biography: you'll get different perspectives from Heiko A. Oberman in Luther: Man Between God and the Devil and Roland H. Bainton in Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. These books reveal him as a practically biblical figure, sinner and saint, grossly prejudiced and yet with profound insights into the gospel. Speaking of flawed heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. looms over nearly every facet of American public life today. If you're not acquainted with the details of his life, pick up Parting the Waters: America in the King Years: 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch. I knew I needed to get smart in a hurry when I planned to move to Alabama.
What are your favorite fiction books?
A friend recently finished Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry after my wife and I gave her a copy. What a great encouragement when someone else enjoys one of your favorite books almost as much as you did! I usually find if someone appreciates the pace of Berry's Port William, she'll also enjoy Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. A book like The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky demands more than most of us can give, especially outside a classroom setting. But I can't think of another book outside the Bible that comes up more regularly in evangelistic and apologetic conversations than this disturbing classic. Finally, I can't imagine living and ministering in the Deep South without the inspiration of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.