Category Archives: Books

Top 5 Books of 2009

With 2009 wrapped up I figured I would tell the world which books were my favorite.  I don’t feel like I read as much this year, primarily because I was teaching the whole year and taking college classes through the fall to get my certification.  But here are the books I did get to and thoroughly enjoyed!

1)  Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – I can’t begin to count the number of conversations I have had about this book!  Outliers discusses the factors that lead to success, many times factors that you would never have suspected.  Gladwell uses all kinds of crazy data to show connections between these factors and success.  I highly recommend this book for anyone in the education field.  At the time I read it I was teaching gifted students and he specifically discusses the correlation between a person’s IQ and success.

2)  The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins – Earlier in the year I had mentioned this book.  It is so refreshing as it is far from other Christian books you will find on the shelves of bookstores.  Unfortunately, I am not sure you will find it in any bookstore that I know of.  I had to order it out of Amazon.  The book is a collection of parables meant to change your heart, not your mind.  Rollins points out in the introduction that most religious information is meant to change your mind or educate you, allowing someone to hear a message without heeding it.  Parables, on the other hand, “represent a mode of communicating that cannot be heard without being heeded.”  The book is full of 33 parables that will challenge you and resonate within you.  The ones that haved stayed with me, that I think about and remember, are “The Heretic”, “Salvation for a Demon”, and “Mansions”.

3)  The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson – First, let me say thank you to Robert Jordan (real name James Rigney Jr.) for this amazing series and that you will be missed but you are in a better place!  Second, thank God for Brandon Sanderson!  By now, every fan of the series knows that after Mr. Jordan passed his wife handed the reins over to Brandon Sanderson and like every Wheel of Time fan I didn’t have much faith in him.  I don’t think I have ever been so glad I was wrong in my life!  Sanderson did a great job with all the characters save one.  In fact, I think he may have done a better job with Egwene’s character than Jordan did.  The one character he fumbled, very unfortunately so, is Mat Cauthon.  Mat was my favorite character in the series and the differences in his personality were very obvious.  Hopefully this can be corrected in the final two novels, but if not it is a sacrifice I am willing to make at this point.  This book also had a lot of action in it, finally!  In fact, this book has some of the best action scenes and twists since the first half of the series.  Twelve books down and two to go!

4)  Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay – This has the most depth of any fantasy novel I have ever read.  Kay is definitely not the typical fantasy author, the tone of his novels is much more serious and engaging.  If the average fantasy novel is like an average beer, Tigana is like a fine wine – unique, mature, and meant to be enjoyed slowly.  The story is set in a land divided by generations of tradition that is conquered by two socerer tyrants.  Kay follows several individuals that are striving for freedom, for a memory of freedom.  Along the way you are drawn into the depths of the characters, each with a story that is many times powerful and traumatic.  The novel had a few themes, but the main theme was memory and the power and necessity of it.  Kay wraps the book up nicely with an afterword that explains these themes and where he got the ideas for the novel.

5)  How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins – Ahhh, I need to reread this book.  I read it at the beginning of last year and so it is not as fresh in my mind as the other books on this list.  Rollins has a PHD in postmodern thought and in this book he tries to show postmodernism as a way forward by exposing the problem of Christianity based on modern logic of the last couple hundred years.  The most powerful part for me is when Rollins writes about thinking about God as object vs. subject.  He says the problem with theology is that we view God as an object and when we objectify something we are able to hold it at a distance, measure it, weigh it, and (at least try to) make impartial judgements about it.  But God is not meant to be experienced as a distant object but as a radical subject that has captured our hearts and saved our souls.  A great book that is very thought provoking and challenging.

So what are the best books you read in 2009?  Let me know, I’d love to hear recommendations!

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Seattle Update & Stuff I’m Lovin’

I am going to Seattle in a week!!!  Since I last posted I have found a place to stay and bought my non-refundable plain ticket.  Turns out my wife has had family there this whole time!  So I will be in Seattle from July 15th – August 6th, during which I will be doing a short term internship at Q Cafe.  I am really pumped to learn how the cafe is run and just be able to get help and encouragement with some of my ideas.  I am also going a few days before and staying a few days later than the internship so I am hoping to get around Seattle to a few more coffee houses, museums, a Mariners game, and maybe even one of the parks outside the city.

That is all the good stuff about the trip, now here is the negative stuff – my wife and I will be apart the longest we have ever been since we started dating in 2003!  I will be gone for those three weeks, get back, and two days later my wife leaves for a business seminar in Atlanta for four days.  Which doesn’t sound too bad but less than 24 hours after that she is flying back to AR to stay with family for a week.  We figure we will see each other for only about 72 hours in a 5 week period.  The thought hadn’t really hit us until this week.  Probably because we have had a lot going on between going back to AR in June and moving last week – oh yeah, we moved into a house last week!  So anyways, just the act of sitting here writing this is making me feel sad and a bit lonely.

STUFF I’M LOVIN’!

MUSIC – Two of my favorite artists/bands have just released new albums that really take their art in a new direction.  I have always been impressed with Mewithoutyou’s and Derek Webb’s incredible writing ability and therefore will always follow them regardless of their sound.  I say that because, at least in the case of mewithoutyou, many people will find the new sound remarkably different, but I welcome the changes!

  • mewithoutyouIt’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All a Dream, It’s Alright! –It's All Crazy!... Everyone knows that mewithoutyou’s music is always passionate.  Often, in the past, that has come in the form of hard crescendos and screaming, but the band takes a turn in this album, mellowing the sound into more of a hornsy folk album rather than post-hardcore.  Ok, that sounds way to reviewish.  Suffice it to say this album is awesome!  As usual Aaron and the guys explore deep spiritual issues that are more than often lacking in any other form of music, “Christian” or not.  “The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie” show cases Aaron’s amazing story telling ability (which I have actually heard is adapted from Suffi folklore but am not sure).  “A  Stick, a Carrot & String” and “The King Beetle On a Coconut Estate” are incredible, deep songs exploring the incarnation and the mystery of God.  As always, mewithoutyou pushes the limits of Christian music and this album does not dissappoint.  With songs like “A Fig With a Bellyache” and “Allah, Allah, Allah”, I wouldn’t doubt if this album earns a ban from Lifeway!
  • Derek WebbStockholm Syndrome – Derek just released his controversialStockholmSyndrome new album on his website Tuesday; however, right now you can only buy it on his website as it will not be available anywhere else until sometime around September 1st.  Anyways, this new album falls more in line with his One Zero Remix album and Moby that his acoustic albums as he has teemed up with Joshua Moore on the new record. So, if you are a fan of Derek’s acoustic and more traditional sounding work then this new album may not have much appeal.  That said, if you are a fan of Derek Webb then I can assure you it does not disappoint as this may be the best produced of all Derek’s work thus far and, as always, the lyrics are always on target.  Derek has a knack for offensive, incredible lyrics that expose the darkness of organized Christianity and the darkness of our hearts.  This tradition can be traced from the beginning in “Wedding Dress” to “T-Shirts” in his sophmore album and on through too many songs to name in his previous two releases.  Well, Derek has continued to strip his language bare to earn him a ridiculous explicit warning for dropping the *shit* bomb in one of the songs.  In context the language is completely appropriate and I am thankful that Derek fought so hard to keep it in there.  The song in question is “What Matters More” and is full of a righteous anger at the gap between what we say we believe and the way we actually live.  He continues to explore certain themes from his previous two albums, including our relationship with the government in “The State” and our seeming need to substitute God for lovers less wild in “The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum”.  Unfortunately I have had the album for less than 24 hours and have not explored many of the other songs much more that listening to them a couple times.  Other exciting news, Derek will be playing in Florida three times in October!  Unfortunate news, I may only be able to go to one of the shows!

BOOKS

  • Peter RollinsThe Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales – This book is incredible!!!  It is both remarkable and unfortunate how absent parables are in today’s Christian writing and teaching, especially in light of how prevelant it was in Jesus’ teaching.  So with this book Rollins offers us 30+ parables to chew on, wrestle with, or any other metaphor you want to use to describe book that requires a lot of openness and reflection.  Rollins rightly comments that the reason parables are not used today is because they do not make faith easy or turn it into three bullet points that the mind can understand.  Rather than challenging and changing your mind, parables challenge and change your heart.  GREAT book that should be read slowly, carefully, and openly!The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales

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The Gospel and Culture

I decided to try and pick up where I left off with Missional Church.  So I am on chapter 2 which starts with this very rich and thought provoking paragraph:

“The gospel is always conveyed through the medium of culture.  It becomes good news to the lost and broken humanity as it is incarnated in the world through God’s sent people, the church.  To be faithful to its calling, the church must be contextual, that is, it must be culturally relevant within a specific setting.  The church relates constantly and dynamically both to the gospel and to its contextual reality.” (Guder, 18)

Today, when we think of the church being relevant we imagine the megachurch with the incredible graphic arts program and the best band in town.  However, I do not believe that is what the author is referring too (although I do not believe that can be completely ruled out either). I believe this goes much deeper than just finding new methodologies. The author goes on to say, “In order to contextualize responsibly, the church must assess its culture critically, discerning and unmasking (deconstructing – my addition) its philosophical foundations and values.”  So this issue is much deeper than just using new technology and a great speaker to reach our culture.  It requires a very deep understanding of the world around us (and especially within our own Christian culture). 

So Chapter 2 is a study of how North American (US and Canada) culture has evolved into its current state.  It begins going all the way back to the Enlightenment and analyzing the birth of modern culture.  Critically assessing how those ideas have established who we have become, both negatively and positively.  The author reminds us at the beginning that this is not something Christians can simply choose to do if we want to truly live out the Gospel in the US, it is something we must do for our own sake as much as for the people we are called to love and reach.

“…because culture is not neutral, this discipline will assist the church to discern how it might be compromising gospel truth as it lives out its obedience to Christ the Lord.”

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Missional Church, Ch. 1

I have recently began reading Missional Church:  A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America that was written by several authors.  I decided to start blogging about write I read as a sort of journal because I feel that I read a lot of books but don’t retain very much of it, so maybe this will help.  I thought I would at least give it a try with this book.

Chapter 1 “Missional Church – From Sending to Being Sent” – gives an overview for the rest of the book but also lays down the basic assumptions, bias, and perspectives that the authors are coming from.  They don’t pretend to offer an objective study of how to fix the church and the church’s relationship with American culture.  Rather, they start from a profound belief in Missio Dei (mission of God) and influenced by British missionary/theologian Leslie Newbigin (p.3).  Missio Dei means that from the start mission is God’s mission, it is His activity in the world.  That from the beginning God has been restoring and healing creation.  It began with His call of Israel and reached a climax in the incarnation and ensuing life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It continues today through the work of the church and the Holy Spirit.

They argue that this simple shift in thinking creates an enormous shift in our theology and ecclesiology because we now see God as a “missionary God” and the church as a “sent people” (p.4).  Darrell Guder, the author of this chapter, quotes David Bosch:  “Mission (is)understood as being derived from the very nature of God.  It (is) thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology.  The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit (is) expanded to include yet another “movement”:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.”

Guder argues that the church in America today is not missional and must be transformed to become missional.  Today’s churches are based in Christendom, a time period where the church was shaped because of its dominant role in a society that considered itself officially Christian.  This is no longer the case as the church now exists in a postmodern, multicultural context.  So the basic question no becomes:  “What would an understanding of the church (an ecclesiology) look like if it were truly missional in design and definition.”  Thus the basic question of the book.

They also lay out five characteristics of a faithfully missional ecclesiology (11-12):

  • A missional ecclesiology is biblical…
  • A missional ecclesiology is historical…
  • A missional ecclesiology is contextual…
  • A missional ecclesiology is eschatological…
  • A missional ecclesiology can be practiced, that is, it can be translated into practice…

The rest of the chapter is a sort of overview of the rest of the book, chapter by chapter.  I am excited after the first chapter because I agree with Guder when he states that we need to read the Scriptures through a missional hermeneutic.  Which means to read and interpret scripture from the position that God deeply loves all of creation and wants to heal and restore that creation.  From this basic understanding we must agree that mission can no longer be just a program of the church, in the form of outreach or foreign missions.  Instead, mission “defines the church as God’s sent people” and “either we are defined by mission, or we reduce the scope of the gospel and the mandate of the church” (6).  “Thus our challenge today is to move from church with mission to missional church” (6).

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The World is Gone…

I was looking through some of my books in college and found Soveriegnties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan, by Jacques Derrida. I don’t remember what class this book was used for (maybe Contemporary Religious Thought?), but I remember not being able to read it very well! In the book Derrida tries to interpret, or struggle, with the meaning of Celan’s poems (a man who himself is hard to read). There is one section that we read that I found very interesting and always seem to pick up the book to read it again. The chapter deals with a conversation between Derrida and Gadamer, but it is the Celan poem that I find so interesting. The last line of the poem, carrying the charge of the poem, reads, “The world is gone, I must carry you.” I have always found this line fascinating and it obviously speaks of a relationship.  But who is the I and who is the other?  I often ponder what it means when viewed in the context of my relationship with Jesus.  It very much seems to speak of a relationship of deep love and devotion, what greater relationship is there?  So who is the I and who is the Other in the line?  I think the line can be interpreted both ways, the I is me and the Other is Jesus and vice versa.

The first interpretation seems negative at first glance. It seems to suggest that Jesus is powerless and without his followers or the church He would simply cease to exist in this world (although there is still the Holy Spirit, so He would still have a presence in the world). I don’t think that is what the line means at all. Rather it should be interpreted through a hermeneutic of love instead of power. It is not necessarily that the world is gone, or the world of the Other, but my world is gone, turned upside down, forever changed. The world is gone, I must carry you because what you did for me. As Derrida writes, “as soon as I speak to you and am responsible for you, or before you, there can be no longer, essentially, be any world.” He continues, “I am alone with you, alone to you alone; we are alone: this declaration is also an engagement.” So rather than a relationship of power, where only one is vulnerable, it is one of love, where both are vulnerable. Did Jesus not make himself vulnerable when he entrusted His message to us, the fallen humans that we are? But does that not make Him that much more beautiful? His love for us that much more beautiful? “To bear this poem is to put oneself within its grasp, to put it within the other’s grasp, to give it to the other to bear.” To accept Jesus’ love is to put oneself within His grasp, but He is also putting himself within ours’, entrusting us to carry out His message, His love, and Himself to the world.

The second interpretation is also beautiful. It is truly one of salvation – the world is fallen (gone), so I will carry you. It becomes a picture of divine love. His love compelled him to carry us through, to be with us. Our response can only be this: “I only believe in Jesus Messiah; I am carried away and enraptured in him, in such a way that ‘I do not live, but the Messiah lives in me'” (from Giorgio Agamben’s The Time That Remains).

I do not think that either interpretation is very different from the other. Both, I think, when interpreted with love, show a beautiful relationship between a fallen creation and a loving God. A sublime picture of reckless abandon for each other.

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existing for those outside

Since I began my internship at Crosspoint Church I have learned a lot about loving those outside of the church.  Wayne has taught Amber and I so much about the church existing for those outside of its walls.  For instance, a couple weeks ago when time changed our college small group went out into the community to hand out free coffee packets.  We told them it was for some extra caffeine in the morning!  We also gave them a card that read “We hope this small act of kindness brings some light into your day.  Its our way of saying God loves you, no strings attached.  Let us know if we can be of more assistance.”  People really enjoyed it!  Many of them laughed and were surprised.

Over Christmas I received Transforming Mission by David Bosch.  The book is enormous so I skipped to the good parts that I wanted to read!  One section is about churches becoming more missional, in their actions and theology (missional is certainly a buzz word today, but this book was written in the early 90s by a guy from South Africa, so that makes it even more interesting!).  Bosch notes the there is an emerging shift in the way the church approaches mission.  Instead of missions being something that the church sends people to do, it is becoming what the church is.  He claims that today the “church is not the sender but the one sent.”  We are being sent not to comfort ourselves and better ourselves, but be a light in our own communities.  One that is the source of love, justice, and forgiveness.  A humble entity where community is authentic and always accepting.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, “The church is the church only when it exists for others.”  That means we must find creative, loving ways to be a light in our community.  Many times we have the attitude that people should come to us instead of us going to/finding them.  The church should not be so arrogant but rather imitate Jesus, who when a sheep went missing went out to find it at all costs.

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Best Books of 2007

The title is a little misleading because not all of the books were published in 2007. The fact that some of them were is rather irrelevant anyway. What I mean is the best books that I read in 2007. These books have all in some way expanded the way I see and understand the world, church, mission, and following Jesus. Here is a list of my top five:

1. The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne

This has been the most refreshing book since Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, only ten times as challenging. Shane’s struggle to find a middle way between the left and the right (in much more than just the political sense) is both captivating and convicting. The pages are full of reminders that God’s radical love is actualized in His community reaching out to a lost and broken world, not just in special outreach events, but in the way we live of lives. This book is highly recommended for anyone, but I warn you this book “will comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable, and invite believers to change the world with Christ’s radical love.”

2. Conspiracy of Kindness, Steve Sjogren

This book was introduced to me this past year by Wayne Cordova, Outreach Pastor at Crosspoint Church. My wife and I intern under Wayne and this was one of the first books he had me read when we arrived. It helped me understand his heart and the kind of ministry he wants to impact Spring Hill with. The book is for anyone who has ever felt nauseous when their church mentions the word outreach. I feel like I grew up subconciously knowing that outreach sucked and was embarrassing, not only for me but it did not seem to honor God very much. This book has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I know longer dread outreach, but enjoy it and look forward to it. The basic idea is servant evangelism. So instead of annoying people, you leave them with a smile. Please check out the book and begin to share God’s love in your community through service (or check out Steve’s website at servantevangelism.com).

3. No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke

This is one of the best books that I have read that deal with practical ministry in a postmodern context. Through telling stories of those God has brought to Gateway Church in Austin, TX, pastor John Burke relates how he and his staff reach the postmodern generation of twenty and thirty somethings. The overall theme is creating a culture within the church that is welcoming, accepting, and transformative all at the same time. He hits all of the issues confronting this generation: cynicism, mistrust, being tolerant but not relative, finding truth, brokenness, and aloneness. Highly recommended for anyone who is working with or a part of that generation or who simply wants to understand how this generation experiences/approaches/deals with life.

4. Glocalization, Bob Roberts

This book has broadened my look/understanding of world missions in today’s context. There is an enormous cry today to end poverty. Bob believes that the church should be at the forefront, not the fringes, of that movement. What he suggests is that large denominational and interdenominational programs will not change the world, but the people sitting in the pews of the church. Bob advocates that church leaders new role is teaching Christ-followers to use their vocations as a means of doing missions overseas in such a way that they are being light and salt while at the same time making the world a better place right now. For me, I never felt right about doing only the type of missions that meets a person’s spiritual need while ignoring his/her physical needs. Jesus clearly met both needs in his ministry. His message of hope was meant for this world, the here and now, as much as for the next world. Also, there have been many changes in the last twenty years that force us to ask new questions when it comes to our mission in the world. The changes that have taken place are called globalization. And it is in such a context that Bob has created an excellent model for Christians to transform the world both spiritually and physically.

5. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs

There are two feelings that kept me reading this book all the way to the end, excitement and hope. It is written by an economist, so honestly it has its dry moments, but the strong belief that Sachs has that the world can be a better place keeps coming through. As Christians we must learn to love our neighbors the way Jesus intended us to. We must also come to grips with two realities: we do not know how and we have sucked at it! What I mean by that is loving our neighbors does not mean shoving Western ideas/models/structures down their throat. We have only recently come out of the Colonial era and must realize our mistake, that the church was more a part of and not a barrier to the horrors of colonialism. Part of loving our neighbors means allowing them to have the same opportunities we do. We are all equal, according to Paul, and that should include economically. Sachs explains that building up the third world economically does not necessarily mean a decrease in our own wealth, but instead would create a safer, freer world for everyone to enjoy. This book has broadened my view in the world and I think it will for anyone who picks it up.

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