March Madness: The Best Christian Book of All Time?

When Marquette pulled out a last-second win over Davidson and Butler turned back a late Bucknell rally, I lost two of the upsets I’d predicted in my NCAA men’s basketball bracket. (And I clearly should have had more faith in my graduate alma mater’s conference!) Adding more evidence to counter the notion that human beings are rational actors, I’m counting on my Minnesota Golden Gophers to surprise UCLA today, so…

Let’s turn our attention to another bracket, shall we? From InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars blog, it’s… The Best Christian Book of All Time tournament!Best Christian Book bracket

Click to learn more about how the “selection committee” went about its work, but here’s a quick breakdown by “region”: (with first-round results for the first two categories, already closed; the first round in the other two will be announced today; vote for the second round at the Emerging Scholars Facebook page)

Theology & Apologetics

#1 Seed: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

1st Round Upsets: Blaise Pascal, Pensées (11) over J.I. Packer, Knowing God (6) — though it seems like the seeding probably should have been reversed… And N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God (9) downed John Stott’s Basic Christianity (8) in a match-up of evangelical Anglicans.

Most Intriguing 2nd Round Match-up: Two systematic theologians from the University of Paris go head to head as John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (2) meets Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (7). Aquinas currently has a small lead over Calvin in 2nd round voting, so all my Reformed readers should be sure to go register their opinion.

Christian Life & Discipleship

#1 Seed: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (which crushed Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life with 97% of the vote — pay attention, Gonzaga: this is how a #1 seed performs!)

1st Round Upset: Only one, but it’s a biggie — Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (4) fell to Augustine (his 13th-seeded On Christian Teaching is one of his three entries in the tournament — putting him one up on C.S. Lewis, John Stott, G.K. Chesterton, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Most Intriguing 2nd Round Match-up: Predictably, it’s a landslide in early voting, but if the tournament has anything to do with contemporary relevance and influence, I tend to think that Cost of Discipleship ought to be in for a tighter race with Leslie Newbiggin’s 8th-seeded The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (which got by Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker in another 1st round Anglican tilt).

Fiction & Poetry

#1 Seed: Dante, The Divine Comedy (the overall #1, no?)

Most Intriguing 1st Round Match-up: 8-9 games are always interesting… I can’t think of two less flawed and less similar novels than Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (8) and Shusaku Endo’s Silence (9).

Most Objectionable Seeding: Les Misérables is a #3 while The Brothers Karamazov is #13 — and forced to take on The Chronicles of Narnia.

Memoirs, Devotionals & Spirituality

Augustine's Confessions#1 Seed: Augustine, Confessions — amazingly, nearly one in five voters opted for Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel (16).

Most Intriguing 1st Round Match-ups: For this category, I’d ordinarily think that Brother Lawrence is a pretty strong #4, but recent interest in St. Francis of Assisi makes Bonaventure’s biography an intriguing 13 seed. (Though not to voters, apparently, who are making it a runaway for Lawrence.) Then there’s a rare encounter between two women: Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Love (11) vs. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (6). In the only pending upset in the category, the medieval mystic is crushing the nature writer.

Looking Ahead to the 2nd Round: Most of the higher seeds came through the first round in pretty good shape, but I think Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son might face a stiff test if he has to take down a second consecutive memoir by a female mystic.

What do you all think? Any snubs? Any Pietists out there upset that Arndt’s True Christianity and Spener’s Pia Desideria seem to have landed in the best Christian books equivalent of the NIT?


5 thoughts on “March Madness: The Best Christian Book of All Time?

  1. I agree that Brothers Karamazov was seeded too low. It’s also difficult to know whether to vote based on excellence or influence.

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