Earlier this week I had a chance to spend some time with a small group of local pastors, friends from a particular denomination that, like many of our old-line denominations, are struggling with membership decline and controversy due to theological shifts. Yet, these wonderful clergy serve well, gather for reflection and encouragement, and, in many cases, are doing fine jobs of caring for their local congregations and our community. Their good humor and steadfastness always impresses me and that they allowed me to ramble on about new books, stuff I like, things I think they ought to read, is an encouragement. Now if they could just find the time to read the resources I reported on, or get their parishioners reading more. I know they are trying, and I’ll bet you are too…spread the word about BookNotes blog, please, if you think it might be helpful to other readers, or those who ought to be reading. Thanks.
One of the many books I told this groups of pastors about deserves a mention here: Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations by Anthony B. Robinson (Eerdmans; $18.00.) I’ve mentioned it here before, but I think some of our readers will appreciate knowing that there are books which help with this process—helping mainline (and other) congregations learn to change by learning to frame our conversations a bit differently, by being more theologically grounded and creative. In the 20th century, many of us church folk, if we got out much, realized that there were mostly two kinds of churches, liberal and conservative. (I know, I know, many actually didn’t fit into that simple dichotomy, and rather, were somewhere along a continuum, or not on the continuum at all: pacifist Mennonites? High-church, pro-life Lutherans? Russian Orthodox? The historic black churches? None fit the simple mold of liberal or conservative do they?) Well, now most or our churches don’t fit the simple mold, if they ever did, but yet, we so often talk as if we do. Our imaginative construct is stilted, I’d say, and we either are ideologically driven or we are theologically lazy. Robinson offers a handful of urgent conversations that transforming congregations need to have, and—importantly—shows how to have these conversations in ways that get beyond old, tired dichotomies. Surely God’s invigorating Spirit can push us to faithful ways to be church that are current and contemporary, but rooted in the ancient traditions, that are relevant and faithful, that are some alternative combo of the best of what some call liberal and conservative. As Bishop Willimon writes, “For some time now Tony Robinson has been changing what we mainline Protestants talk about. In this book Tony furthers the conversation with clear, wise insights into how we can be a changed church.” I told these pastors yesterday that they should be about leading these kinds of gentle paradigm shifts, so that our churches can be vibrant and faithful places, which inform lay folks to live out their callings in the world. I think this book is quite a resource for those on the journey…
Of course, as is often the case, by the time I returned to the store, great new stuff had be delivered by our stalwart UPS and FedEx guys, so when I got back from the gig, book bags and boxes under arm, I found even more stuff I could have told them about.
Here are a few I didn’t mention, but should have.
The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life M Craig Barnes (Eerdmans; $18.00.) I loved many of Dr. Barnes’ books, and his last was especially good, on developing a spirituality of homecoming (Searching for Home.) He has been a friend to many Presbyterians (and others) in DC and in his recent position in Pittsburgh. Dr. Barnes is a poet himself, writing with considerable grace and something beyond charm, although charming he is. It is wise and deep, luminous and provocative. Anyone who has paid attention to serious theological literature in our time knows of the seminal role of Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination or his homiletics works such as Finally Comes the Poet. Well, finally, the poet has come, and Barnes calls pastor to a poetic ministry, to see themselves as “minor poets” and to help them interpret the text of Scripture and the lives of the congregations, thereby helping them understand their lives as poets of their souls. Can faithful words pull this off (I mentioned to the UCC pastors how I like the Lutheran writer Richard Lischer’s remarkable book about preaching called The End of Words which makes this audacious claim.) One good friend, himself a poetry lover, said this was one of the finest books he’s ever read. Highly recommended.
Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic Anne Jackson (Zondervan; $16.99) When organizational guru and best selling hip marketeer Seth Godin blurbs a book about the church, you know it has to be interesting. And this one really is!
This play on words is itself pretty funny, but the book is remarkable. Bloggers may know the author’s collaborative FlowerDust.net blog about Christian leadership issues, so she has thought long and hard about this stuff. She is a fine writer, too, clever and punchy and smart. Here’s the starting point of the book: she asks–and tells of her own asking of it—“Does working at this church interfere with your community with Christ?” Whew. That question saved her life and she believes it could save yours too.
Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others Todd D. Hunter (IVP; $22.00) Many of us have been waiting for this thoughtful and systematic study of how the local church can promote deep living, real life, and thereby stand a chance at enfolding into our communities the disenfranchised and cynical. Hunter, who was for a while the director of Alpha in the US, is known as a vibrant speaker and his “Society for Kingdom Living” is all about life outside the institutional church, yet he lives to invite others into God’s Kingdom. I love a book that is endorsed by George Hunsberger and Dallas Willard, and delightfully, Brian McLaren, who cares about the unchurched (and the postmodern culture in which they live) as much as anybody I know. Can we really “get” the good news of the Kingdom of God? Can we truly be transformed into Kingdom people, not viewing faith as merely some security for after death? Can we b
ecome churches where we help people understand the whole scope of the story of God, and see our lives as a part of that redemptive drama? There is a very, very great introduction by Eugene Peterson and it builds expectation for this wise, passionate and very practical book. Here is his website, with changes to hear him, see other work he does, and learn more. Better, here’s a video clip of Todd talking about the book.
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