Like any author, I not only write but I also read. Thus far, I have ended up with quite a library of Christian Nonfiction books. Usually I cannot get through a spiritual conversation without mentioning something I read from a book I bought recently or read in the past. I thought that sharing a handful of the last books on the shelf would not only give a glimpse into the mind of how I think, but also encourage those of you who want to read more about certain subjects. This is only a short list of recent books, but I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts or suggestions for others.
Jesus Loves You… This I Know – Craig Gross and Jason Harper
Definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this past year. Craig Gross (xxxChurch spokesman) and Jason Harper do a wonderful job of reminding Christians and nonChristians alike that no matter what they’ve done, what they’ve said, or who they’ve been Jesus loves them. The authors alternate chapters (for the most part), each giving personal insights into what it looks like to love like Jesus loves. Craig’s chapters stuck with me the most. He writes how, as part of xxxChurch, he has the opportunity to go to Porn shows and show the love of Jesus to those who have been scarred by so many Christians. He shares conversations he’s had with gay friends, interactions at Gay Porn shows, and debates with one of the industry’s biggest names, Ron Jeremy. If you are looking for a good book that is a gentle yet profound reminder that God is love, then this one is near the top of the list. There is not a lot of deep Theological thought. It is a down-to-Earth, practical exploration of the kinds of people Jesus loves. No matter what. Jesus loves you… this I know.
Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be – Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
This book helped me through a very theologically uncertain time this past semester. With the Emergent church movement in the forefront of Christianity and under much fire from traditional Fundamentalists, this book offered a solid, theological argument and explanation against the mainstream Emergent movement. While I found myself agreeing with a lot of the new ideas the Emergent movement brought, many of the chapters really helped shed light on what many of the Emergent voices are really saying. It is easy with many of the Emergent literature to get swept away in the utopian mindset of grace, hope, and love. While these are central truths to the Christian faith, Why We’re Not Emergent really helped show me some of the flaws in the Emergent way of thinking. While Kevin DeYoung says that the simplifying all the theological views of the Emergent movement into one coherent, inclusive doctrine is like nailing Jell-O to the wall, this book really helps that Jell-O stick a little more. While reading it appears like it is an attack on certain authors and thinkers (Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, etc.), both authors reiterate time and time again that they are not trying to cause division or controversy, but they are trying to help clarify the conversation that is going on today for those who feel overwhelmed. They do not call them heretics or condemn their opinions; Kevin DeYoung states that these guys are still Brothers in Christ, but he is trying to lovingly correct and encourage them to clarify their stances. Overall, it is not two traditionalists Bible-thumping new voices, but rather a couple brothers trying to help other brothers as they pursue Jesus. To be honest, it is not an easy read, and you should definitely set time aside to read, search, and think. Be prepared for deep, Theological explanations mixed with “man-on-the-street” episodes (written by Ted Kluck). If you are hesitant about the Emergent Church or just interested in where they stand, I definitely recommend this book. Be prepared for some heavy stuff.
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices – Frank Viola and George Barna
I read this book this past summer, and some of it’s claims and ideas have stuck with me through my first year of college. This book has influenced my thoughts on the Church and became a banner or manifesto for many disgruntled church-goers. George Barna is known for the research group he started: the Barna Group. The majority of the statistics and research was done by Barna, but the authorial voice comes from the mind of Frank Viola. The authors attempt to show that much of what we consider to be traditional parts of Church, as we know it, are really borrowed from pagan cults and practices. They argue that things like the steeple, preaching, church set-up, and “Sunday dress” were never found in the New Testament and question their place in the Church today. They offer historical explanations for how a wide array of traditions infiltrated the Christian environment, most having to do with Constantine and Medieval Age Christianity. It is very easy to see why this book has become such a controversial issue in Christian circles. Barna and Viola offer much historical evidence, which makes their points believable and convincing. I found myself nodding and agreeing with some ideas, but at the same time, I cringed at the caustic remarks about the Church today. The undertone the authors wrote with revealed a very dismal view of the future of the Bride of Christ. When talking with one of my mentors about the book he remarked that most of Barna’s books left him feeling very depressed, discouraged, disheartened, and as though we are always fighting an uphill battle. I agree with this completely. After finishing the book, there were parts of me that wanted to passionately change the Church, but the majority of my spiritual fervor was sabotaged and discouraged. If you are disgruntled with the Church, this may seem like the book for you, but I would caution against it. While it is easy to believe authors who toss around historical facts and social experimental results, read this specific book with extra scrutiny and criticism. While pointing out valid problems with the Church, Pagan Christianity does little to offer solutions.
Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion – Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
I received this book for Christmas and was really excited to dig into it. I enjoyed Why We’re Not Emergent and was interested to hear the reason why they praised organized religion. Similar to their previous book in structure, the chapters alternate between a theological apologetic (Kevin DeYoung) and a practical admittance (Ted Kluck). Also like their previous book, they appear to address a specific topic: house (organic) church v. corporate (traditional) church. While both Kevin and Ted both explain that they did not want to write another book that appeared to attack other believers, the intent of this book was to offer reasons why they love the Church as it is. While they admit that the Church has many problems and issues, she is not beyond hope or going to self-destruct within the next decade if we do not realize the real mission of the Church. It was a very interesting book to read since the author they mostly offered criticism of was George Barna and mainly Pagan Christianity. It was very refreshing to read an opinion that was pro-Established religion as opposed to the new voices that echo an organic, missional-minded church. This book does a great job of offering Scripture that supports an established, religious body that not only helps those in need but also glorifies God in worship and truth. Again, it is heavy with theology and most chapters are deep, but if you are concerned with the state of the Church, it is definitely an encouraging read that will help you acknowledge issues, while at the same time encourage your local body. It is definitely worth the read if you are going into any sort of vocational ministry.
Hands down, the most inspiring book I’ve read this year so far. When I finished the last page of this book and closed the cover, there was a longing in my soul to live for something more than where I am at now. Many people have read Blue Like Jazz and have written rave reviews about the impact that book had on their spiritual life. I actually read Search For God Knows What first, but enjoyed Blue Like Jazz as well. A Thousand Miles in a Million Years absolutely blew me away. I love Miller’s style of writing. It is intensely personal yet passionately profound. This book focused solely on the idea of story. Miller walks the reader through part of the process of editing his memoir (Blue Like Jazz) for the silver screen, and how he learned more about how stories are adapted in order to make movies. Miller proceeds to tell stories about how he met people who lived stories that were bigger than they were. Whose stories were more interesting because they chose to live in one that was larger. I would recommend this book to anyone whose soul longs for something more than where they are at now. This book will leave you feeling encouraged and stir a passion in your soul to live not only a fuller life, but a life that pursues God in a larger story He created. Another classic by Donald Miller. He rarely disappoints.
Currently Reading: Flickering Pixels – Shane Hipps.
Books on Deck:
Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit – Francis Chan
The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist – Craig Groeschel
Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist – John Piper
The War of Art: Breaking Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles – Steven Pressfield