10 December 2014

Top 10 Missionally Helpful Books in 2014

There were a plethora of good books I worked through this year. The stack of books on my desk were a bit larger than normal because I was in the middle of research for my own project Subterranean. Outside of research, I often find myself reading from a missional-pastoral angle. So I picked 10 books this year that helped me coach, counsel or gently cajole others to enter deeply into community, for the mission of God.

1. A Thicker Jesus by Glen H. Stassen
Sadly, Glen Stassen passed away this year but he had a significant influence on me. Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., were been able to practice truth against power at great personal cost, while others readily capitulated to injustice. In this magnum opus, Stassen spingboards of their work to argue that such a robust Christianity stems from believing in a "thicker" Jesus, who is Lord over all of life. Belief in this thicker Jesus results in "incarnational discipleship". We must break away from idealism, individualism and cynicism to engage in the flawed messiness of our world.

2. The New Parish by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen
I was able to hang with Paul Sparks in my own city this summer and his presence was a deep encouragement. I respect these guys because they are practitioners. This book is about when faith communities begin connecting together, for the neighborhood, they learn to depend on God for strength to love, forgive and show grace like never before. The gospel becomes tangible and compelling when the local church is actually a part of the community, connected to the struggles of the people, and even the land itself.

3. Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations edited by Kay Higuera Smith, 
Jayachitra Lalitha, L. Daniel Hawk.
In 2010, the Postcolonial Roundtable gathered at Gordon College to initiate a new conversation regarding the significance of post-colonial discourse for evangelicalism. Colonialism involves more than just territorial domination. It also silences and disenfranchises those who do not hold power. Post-colonialism seeks to disrupt forms of domination and empower the marginalized to be agents of transformation. This book offered me good challenges as a white pastor in an urban neighborhood.

4. Theology of Mission by John Howard Yoder
Decades later, these lectures read just as fresh and relevant as if they were written today. Yoder effortlessly weaves together biblical, theological, practical and interreligious reflections to think about mission beyond Christendom. Along the way he traces the developments of mission and argues for an understanding of the church that is not merely a corrective but a genuine alternative in society. My favorite chapter might be chpt 17 on the Medium, Message and Presence. He goes on multiple tirades about consumerism, conversion-pressure and the breakdown of community.

5. Sermon on the Mount Commentary by Scot McKnight
I've got a bit of an obsession with the Sermon on the Mount. I read it every year and find it refreshing and unsettling everytime. I'm always looking for commentaries on it. McKnight explains each passage in light of the Bible’s Grand Story. This is good narrative theology. Scot consistently ties the Sermon back to the countercultural life the People of God are to express; as the in-breaking Kingdom. While the writing is not highly technical, it is theologically and philosophically rich. This book is accessible to the layperson and equally challenging to the academic.

6. Living Into Community by Christine Pohl
This is my second time through this book. Many of us are idealistic and passionate about community but when we dive into it we experience deception, grumbling, envy, and exclusion. These experiences make life together painful and can cause us to bail on the project of community. When we are not faithful through the difficulty, it prevents us from developing the skills, virtues, and character we need to nurture sturdy and love-filled communities. Christine Pohl acutely looks at practices that can counteract these destructive forces and help sustain vibrant communities.

7. Facing Levianthan by Mark Sayers
I was able to have breakfast with Mark recently and was captivated by his quirky, unconventional, rapid fire wisdom; this book reflects that personality. On one side, the mechanical leader casts a vision of heroic action aided by pragmatism and technology. On the other side, the organic leader is aided by creativity, defying convention and relishing the margins. This book explores the godlikeness of the mechanical leader and the dark chaos of the organic leader. Sayers weaves the history of leadership through the Enlightenment, Romanticism and the 19th century pointing out the leadership dangers while calling us to a better way. 

8. Incarnate by Michael Frost
For real, this is Mike's best book as he is prophetic in his critique of disembodied ways we attempt to be the church. The story of Christianity is a story of incarnation—God taking on flesh and dwelling among the people he created. Yet Christianity is increasingly understood as something personal, sentimental, interior, private, neighborless. As a result of dualism, technology, and individualism, the vast majority of people are now living relationally disconnected lives. Frost defines the problem but then provides hope for the church to be the incarnational alternative in society today.

9. The Peep Diaries by Hal Niedzviecki
We have entered the age of "peep culture": a tell-all, show-all, know-all digital phenomenon that is dramatically altering notions of privacy, individuality, humanity and community. Peep culture is YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Blogs. In the age of peep, we live vicariously through others, form pseudo relationships with people we'll never observe in real life and erode our senses with constant stimulation. The Peep Diaries reflects the aspirations of the growing number of people willing to trade the details of their lives for catharsis, attention, and notoriety.

10. Place Attachment edited by Lynne C. Manzo & Patrick Wright
Place attachments are emotional bonds that form between people and their physical surroundings. These connections are a powerful aspect of human life that inform our sense of identity, create meaning in our lives, facilitate community and influence action. Place attachments have bearing on such diverse issues as rootedness, belonging, placemaking, mobility and loneliness. This is a highly academic read, I think its a text book. I found it helpful in understanding the crisis before us; that we're encountering a generation that doesn't know how to stay but is caught in perpetual search for the next opportunity.

What books were helpful for you this year?


  1. Dan - some of the book I liked this year were: 1) Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson, 2) Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar, 3) Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life by David G. Benner, 4) Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community by Ruth Haley Barton, 5) The Sacred Gaze: Contemplation and the Healing of the Self by Susan R. Pitchford, 6) Faith Rooted-Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel, 7) The Rebirthing of God: Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings by John Phillip Newell, 8) The Naked Jesus: A Journey Out of Christianity and into Christ by John Casimir O' Keefe, 9) Reflections on the Unknowable by Thomas Keating, 10) The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing by Daniel P. Horan, 11) Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community by Anne Marie Miller, 12) Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr, 13) A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves, 14) Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, 15) Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, 16) Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith by Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong- Chan Rah, 17) Risky Compassion by Ash Barker, 18) No Place Like Home: A Christian Theology of Place by Leonard Hjalmarson, 19) Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder edited by Chad Wriglesworth, 20) How To Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community, 21) A Way: The Story of a Long Walk by Jenna Smith, 22) Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray. I also loved Incarnate, The New Parish and Living into Community as you already mentioned!

  2. Wow Mark,
    That's some serious reading. Thanks for the extensive list.