I love to read probably more than I like to talk. So stick me in a closet with a book and a flashlight and I’ll be happier than being at party with a crowd. Here are 10 books (not my top ten) I read this year that had me captivated, bored out of my mind or scratching my head.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
I read this book 5 years ago and it messed me up again this year as much as it did back then. Peter Scazzero says you can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. He really digs deep on how many adults are still emotional infants; unable to work through relational conflict, seeking attention for their personalities or accomplishments, not able to enter into world of others unselfishly, driven by instant emotional gratification and holding long grudges when personally offended. This is the stuff that often times goes unaddressed and eats away at community. This is well written and filled with practical disciplines to bring our emotional world into adulthood.
The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons
A book exposing the brewing expression of what Christians will look like in the coming century. I love futurist discussion packed with research. Gabe might make some people nervous by saying he hopes the Christian America concept and current Evangelical framework comes to an end. He is proposing that a new generation of Jesus followers is attempting to break free from a brand of Christianity that is easily offended by worldliness, critical of culture, seeking power or status, autonomous in their faith walk and has conversion as their bottom line. I love this discussion but I find that the greater church is not willing to give space to this fresh form of Christianity. Gabe is a conservative in many ways but labels only frustrate the “Next Christians”. After reading this book you can’t help but ask “Are we headed for another reformation?” Interesting...
The Bible Made impossible by Christian Smith
A feisty discussion on how to read the bible. The author really challenges the idea of the “plain-reading” of scripture (reading the bible to see what it says to me or inductive reading that interprets using modern definitions and literal methods). He brings to light the wild and varied interpretations we’ve come to as evangelicals and we call them “biblical”. Proof-texting is splintering modern Christianity (using isolated OT passages to tell us how to understand God or moralizing NT passages to help us live better lives). He proposes that we need to recover a contextualized approach that first constructs primarily from a 1st century Jewish or Greek perspective and uses the word made flesh (Jesus) as the lens to interpret all of scripture. I’ve heard many preachers claim to preach the bible but they really preach interpretive pluralism. They preach first for western application not Jewish contextualization. We’ve confused authoritative, bible thumping for being more biblical.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Totally old school but unbelievably relevant to the forming of community. This book works through the social and psychological ramifications of forming a Christian community and it ain’t always pretty. This book cuts through all the cliches and utopian ideals. Bonhoeffer lived it and comes across with full bodied credibility. Our current ideas of community rally around friendship, like interests, felt needs, a magnetic pastor or cute bible studies. If community is built on any of those previous things it will crumble given enough time. Bonhoeffer tells us to get our heads out of the clouds and press into the real gritty work of building a Kingdom community for the love of God.
Insurrection by Peter Rollins
Rollins tries to build a case that doubt is essential for faith in Christ. I agree with him on some level that doubt strips away pretense, empty cliches, therapeutic crutches and instead can push us deeper into understanding the suffering and reality of Jesus. But the rest of the book gets real loopy. Peter Rollins does so many philosophical gymnastics that he comes up with unsupported conclusions about the scriptures. At one point he says Jesus became an Athiest because he doubted whether God the Father existed when said “my God, my God why have you forsaken me.” He uses a lot of reasoning to come to that conclusion and then builds the rest of the book on that premise. It’s easy to like Rollins writing because of his moving illustrations and sweeping prose but he leads you into weird rooms wondering how you got there. Plus, from my experience many people that go through seasons of doubt do it without a safety net of community and do not recover from it and Rollins never addresses that. Creating space for doubt inside a grace-filled community is essential but telling people Jesus was an Atheist is simply confusing and untrue.
Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley
A primer on how to deliver captivating and practical sermons. I’ve always respected Andy Stanley and his delivery method. I love the way in which he assembles a one point sermon and builds around it so there is better understanding amongst those listening. But a part of me struggles with the premise of the modern sermon; one way communication. I’m not sure that what we’ve come to understand the sermon to be is what was happening in the early church. There are a few places were Paul delivers a tight presentation of Jesus (Mars Hill, Acts 17) but for the most part there was not a pulpit or a 30 min presentation. The early church did constructive interactive theology in their gatherings. The idea of our modern sermon comes more from the Greco-Roman style of presenting a philosophical argument. The more interactive communal approach to digesting biblical truth is a little messier and not as customer friendly but it is certainly more incarnational, hospitable to learners, slows down our opinionatedness, amps biblical-narrative literacy and creates more ownership.
Against Calvanism by Roger Olson
Two books came out this year Against Calvinism by Olson and For Calvinism by Michael Horton. I plan on reading For Calvinism later this year. Against Calvinism is a head on attack against the modern “Young Reformed and Restless” resurgence ignited by John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C Sproul and posse. This argument has been a long settled deal for me. I really wrestled through this 10 years ago. I have to say I love Olson’s approach. He brings to the forefront the issue I always had a problem with “Can God be good if He controls everything?” Olson dives into the poor handling of Romans by Calvinists, the uncontexutalized interpretation of “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” and the hermeneutic of proof texting. The first quarter of the book is long and unnecessary as he belabors how many different types of Calvinism there are. But what I love is that he addresses the myth that Calvinism is the only serious and rich theological approach. I personally found the alternative to be more rigorous and demanding than Calvinism. I wouldn’t call myself an Arminian, more an Anabaptist if anything. He shows how Arminians in the classical sense are Reformed; believing God is glorious and we are indebted to the grace of God. Good read.
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro
A modern vampire/zombie novel that is part of a Trilogy that has some biblical references to the sons of god and the Nephilim in Gensis 6. This book follows a small band of vampire hunters in NYC who are slowing realizing the origins of this world take over. Totally could become a movie.
The Social-Rhetorical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark by Ben Witherington
This commentary has really aided my teaching through the book of mark. This commentary is different than your tradition one. It works through the rhetoric from a Jewish perspective, dealing with how the 1st Century audience would hear it not how a 21st century American would. Witherington does little personal application (leaves that up to us) and mostly deals with why Jesus kept his identity a secret throughout his earthly ministry.
The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter
A book exploring the tension of missional communites and larger church gatherings. This pastor has been pioneering this approach in Denver and shares his stories and discoveries. I like the premise but the delivery is flat in some ways. It seems to me Halter is trying to build bridges and peace between the missional community camp and the attractional big church camp. I respect his attempt but in the process it seems most everything gets watered down and left up to “there’s no right answer” approach. He spends an appropriate amount of time teaching on how to wean people of consumerism church; consuming the sermon, the programs, the worship, the building and the pastoral services. I’m all over this but his remedy comes across like a dog without any bite.