I read a lot. I read widely. I read theology and biography. I read fiction and poetry. I read the Bible and I read the newspaper (several). I read politics and cultural analysis. I have no set pattern other than that when I am doing research for a book I spend more time on that area for a season, thus right now I am reading more on the church than any single subject since I am writing a book on unity and catholicity: Your Church is Too Small.
Presently I am reading the following books:
1. The Household of God, Lesslie Newbigin
This book is an out-of-print classic, an early work (1953) of the famous missional theologian. It has real bearing on my present research. No one has more influenced my thinking about mission and church, and how they relate to one another so directly, than the late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin.
2. The Case for Civility and Why Our Future Depends on It (HarperOne, 2008), Os Guinness
Guinness, who strikes me as a writer who keeps maturing and stretching, tackles the need for a society in which we can truly respect our differences and then rediscover the core principles of civility which will help us to overcome our present culture war mentality and social and religious stalemate. What civic virtues will guide us back to our original national conversation that included deep respect for people with differing ideas?
3. The Kingdom: The Emerging Rule of Christ Among Men (Destiny Image, 2008 reprint), George Dana Boardman
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). Jesus builds his church but he told us to seek first his kingdom. We have lost the kingdom mentality in our time and thus wander from fad to fad trying to build and grow the church. This 19th century re-issued classic challenges that thesis powerfully. It is the older book right in my active stack right now.
4. Rethinking Christianity (OneWorld, 2007), Keith Ward
Any writer that receives endorsements from the conservative Calvinist scholar Alister McGrath, the provocative and often engaging Catholic writer Hans Kung, and the completely liberal and totally unorthodox Episcopalian John Shelby Spong, gets my attention. Ward is my "edgy" read for right now. He pushes buttons that make me uncomfortable but as McGrath says, he is "highly informed, witty and accessible." Ward believes Christianity is neither monolithic or outdated. The problem is how far he is willing to go with the project. Nonetheless, I am stretched and challenged by him in many powerful ways.
5. April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America (Basic Books, 2008), Michael Eric Dyson
Michael Eric Dyson is the writer on race who is pulling my chain right now as I noted yesterday. I do not agree with some of his solutions but I sure respect his analysis and criticism. Seeing King as a martyr who lived in order to die Dyson paints a very human portrait that includes warts and all. At the same time he reveals the theological liberalism of MLK, which is not news to anyone who has read him carefully. What I did not know was what prompted his break (theologically) with his more conservative father, namely the death of his grandmother and a lot of guilt which followed. As a result King questioned many traditional doctrines of the faith.
6. Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great Political Movement Got Lost–and How It Can Find Its Way Back (Oxford, 2008), Mickey Edwards
Edwards was a 16-year (eight term) congressman and the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. He was also the national chairman of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. His credentials as a political conservative are impeccable. But he is very disturbed by how the movement has been taken over by forces and powers that have sold it out, especially to tax-and-spend forces on one side and religious alliances on the other. His work challenges the modern conservative movement very directly and calls it to political "repentance." He believes this must come if the movement is to remain mainstream and viable in modern America. My guess is that this is not the kind of serious book the right-wing talkers will take up since they are a part of the problem Edwards addresses.
7. The Book of Acts (God’s Word Translation, 1995)
I read whole portions of the Scripture from different translations. Right now I am enjoying this very useful translation that is not widely known. Reading the Book of Acts over and over has had a profound impact upon me in fresh ways.
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As an avid reader myself, it’s interesting to see what may be shaping others. Some of the books mentioned I was not aware of but will also add to my stack. Thanks for the list!
John, Newbigin’s book is a classic. One of the best on ecclesiology I have ever read.
Yoder and Newbigin have made deep impressions on my faith. Two newer books I highly recommend to get the wheel turning again on ecclesiology are Steven Harmon’s “Towards Baptist Catholicity” and the newly edited work by William Abraham and others called “Canonical Theism.”
You get the idea if we could pool all the books that have made an impact on each of our lives, and then share them with oneanother, you would have an awesome list.
But alas, if we don’t know oneanother and esteem the work of Christ he has been faithfully doing in each one- some for many years, others for fewer-or, if we insist on others conforming to our own pet models, than such a list would be well, just a list.
This is just a peek at the fullness of the Body of Christ and of being brought by the Spirit of Christ to see the multi-faceted beauty of the Grace of God himself. That’s one thing I owe to reading Newbigin’s “Household” many years ago.Another that doesn’t seem to fit in this list at first glance is the classic by Niebuhr on “Christ and Culture”.I have not been happy with both the neglect of this man and his insights, nor of his interpreters of late. I see D.A.Carson has a book now, revisiting “Christ and Culture”. I don’t have it yet, and I really do love Carson, but I question whether he’ll be able to get all the juice out of Niebuhr.
John, why don’t you take the challenge and review D.A.’s book for the rest of us.
p.s. I did remember one major absence in Newbigin’s classic,”The Household of God”, which he confessed to in his foreward but explained was due to his personal lack of sufficient knowledge at the time to write about with any integrity. The Orthodox Christian contribution is a great one that is really missed when we do not include it in the discussion of the Household of Faith. Of course, I believe that Lesslie Newbigin made up for that omission as soon as he could.
John Paul Todd