Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable, by Sam Chan
Sam’s book is a must read for pastors and a ‘should read’ for members of churches considering what it looks like to proclaim the good news of Jesus in the world we live in. It is literally a textbook that you can dip into at different points and is full of advice that is theologically rich and culturally engaged and informed. We’re rolling it out in training programs across our church in 2019.
Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble
There are lots of books unpacking the implication of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and his lesser known (but no less important) Sources of the Self, a book about the implications of the secular age and our disconnection from God, or anything ‘transcendent’ when it comes to understanding who we are. Disruptive Witness provides incredible insights on the impact of the modern quest for identity through consumer choice, paired with whip-smart analysis of a second social phenomenon, ‘the age of distraction’—the idea that we don’t give ourselves the time or space to think deeply about who we are—which leaves us modern people with a weirdly constructed identities built on consumer choice. Noble makes the case that if we adopt a ‘consumer driven’ approach to promoting the Gospel then people won’t escape these two challenges. It’s a bracing and provocative read putting forward imaginative solutions to this cultural moment.
Disruptive Witness provides incredible insights on the impact of the modern quest for identity through consumer choice, paired with whip-smart analysis of our ‘age of distraction’
A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Finding Jesus by David Bennett
David is an Aussie now living in the United Kingdom. He grew up in Sydney, and as a young adult was a gay activist involved in university politics. This is his story of being radically and miraculously confronted by God in a way that caused him to re-order his loves, and thus his identity, so that he is now a celibate, gay, Christian. There are lots of great books out there helping Christians who are same sex attracted, and helping churches understand same sex attraction, the power of this book is how charitably David presents both sides of what has been an increasingly polarising divide in our nation, and his call to all Christians to truly centre our lives, and understanding of who we are, on the love of God.
The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Alan Kreider
I’m an impatient pastor. I want things to happen and I’m too guilty of looking for silver bullets and the right formulas of church activity that will produce some sort of revival or church growth. This is a bracing reminder that in earlier times, pre-Christendom, where the church was at the margins of society, there weren’t books written about the right missionary strategy or ‘doing’, but there was plenty written about the right kind of ‘being’ in the world, books about character and virtue and the formation of disciples whose lives or habitus would form their witness. Kreider compellingly dips into the role patience played in these discussions of virtue and it has been a challenge to my inclination to focus on ‘doing’. I’m increasingly convinced that the answers for what church should look like ‘post-Christendom’ will be found ‘pre-Christendom’ (with the added complexity of now living in a world that wants the fruit of Christianity without the roots, or as Mark Sayers puts it, wanting the Kingdom without the King), and this book is a helpful place to begin.
The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in the Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford
This is another book unpacking the implications of the ‘age of distraction’ we live in, its encouragement to ‘pay attention’ to the things that clamour for our attention, and to remember the importance of being ‘embodied’ as we live in the world (and to think about how the way we shape our space helps us direct our attention) is stimulating for thinking about how our habitats shape our habits—whether at home, or where we gather in community as Christians.
On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
My favourite book last year was Alissa Wilkinson and Robert Joustra’s How To Survive The Apocalypse; it took modern television shows and movies as ‘apocalyptic’ texts in order to reveal things about our modern sensibilities (and to unpack more of the implications of Charles Taylor’s work in accessible ways). There’s something powerful about getting behind stories to teach us what they reveal. This book by Karen Swallow Prior does something similar with books, but instead of unpacking Taylor’s work, she essentially picks up where Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue leaves off. MacIntyre famously calls us ‘story-telling animals’ and says it is impossible for us to know what we should do, unless we know what story we are part of. Prior invites us to consider how stories and their characters might form our character as we read them—she uses literature to introduce and unpack 12 different virtues that are particularly valuable in character formation for Christians. She is a stunningly good writer, and perhaps, more importantly for this work, a model reader who invites us to consider the stories she interacts with in fresh and helpful ways.
MacIntyre famously calls us ‘story-telling animals’ and says it is impossible for us to know what we should do, unless we know what story we are part of. Prior invites us to consider how stories and their characters might form our character as we read them
Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality by Nancy Pearcey
This book offers an important account, and critique, of the modern western anthropology and our tendency to re-split ‘body’ and ‘mind’ along the lines of ‘facts’ and ‘values’ and to put more emphasis on the mind and values, much like the gnosticism of the ancient world. It’s an invitation to consider how this impacts politics and ethics—and a challenge to be less dualistic in our own thinking and speaking about life in the world. To hold ourselves together as God created us.
A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison
This book offers an account for why we Christians have been utterly unpersuasive in our attempts to uphold and promote a traditional Christian sexual ethic, not just in the world, but in the church. It’s an invitation to do better, to not look at sex and marriage as ‘ends’ necessary to a fulfilling human life, but to better ‘look along’ our sexuality (whether we are sexually active or not), and the goodness of sex in marriage towards its telos, and the heavenly reality of union with Christ for eternity, and to tell that story. It offers a framework that is stunningly applicable beyond just this one issue.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Has 2018 been a more polarised year than any other year in history? Even that question is probably polarising. Haidt provides a fascinating psychological insight into how our minds work and how hard it is to agree with each other because we come to any interaction ‘pre-loaded’, and we aren’t as rationally driven as we might like to pretend. It’s an interesting book to read alongside the work of someone like James K.A Smith, to consider how people make ‘moral’ decisions based more on emotional conviction (which Haidt describes as ‘an elephant’) than reason (‘the rider’).
Wonderland: How Play Made The Modern World by Steven Johnson
Two out of my three kids have made their way through kindergarten and are now entering an educational reality that wants to shape them to be cogs in an economic machine—with a focus on ‘STEM’ education (science, technology, engineering and math). There’s nothing wrong with these disciplines—but the fundamental ‘story’ that we humans are economic machines is dangerous. The kindy our kids graduated from was big on play and imagination in the development of empathy, resilience, and character, which got me reading this book which is one of those grand ‘metanarratives’ that seeks to explain modern life through the importance of some unheralded window. This has stimulated my thinking on the place ‘play’ should play in the life of the church and our attempts to ‘revolutionise’ our view of what is important and fundamental to our humanity. I’m convinced we Christians should take play more seriously.
The kindy our kids graduated from was big on play and imagination in the development of empathy, resilience, and character … I’m convinced we Christians should take play more seriously.
Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger
You don’t have to read many Christian blogs or websites to appreciate that we’re in ‘uncharted territory’ in the West, you can also watch or read the news. Tod Bolsinger asks what it might look like for our churches to catch up to the new reality we’re facing. He suggests that our theological colleges are still training ministers for a world where institutional church practices and ‘inwards’ focused strategies for discipleship still work, when we should be training ministers in western contexts as missionaries facing a new and different culture. The metaphor in the title is drawn from the story of Lewis and Clark, who were set to canoe across the waterways many people believed ran from the east coast of the United States to the west: they prepared for a canoe expedition only to be confronted by the Rocky Mountains. The book is a call to courage and a spirit of adventure as we traverse this new reality.