As is customary for this time of year, I’d like to share the top ten books that I read. I’ve done this for 2011 and 2013 and have provided lists for my top five books on the plurality of pastors, top five books on the kingdom of God, top ten books on Charismatic Theology, and some recommendations for developing, fostering, and maintaining a leadership team. What follows is a list of my favorite books that I read in 2014! Yes, some of these books were published before 2014 but since I read them this year, and loved them, I’m including them. Hey… it’s my list. Get your own if you don’t like the way I do it! Ha ha!
In no particular order, I share my top ten favorite books that I read in 2014 and include a quote to wet your appetite:
Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. According to Vanhoozer, the church is the theater where the gospel is “performed” and doctrine directs the performance. This is a follow up to The Drama of Doctrine, and powerfully traces the intersect between theology and praxis, or doctrine and doing. Faith Speaking Understanding casts a powerful ecclesial vision that is connected to discipleship, sanctification, and mission. Any systematician who spends this much time constructively delving into practical theology like this needs to be listened too. This will likely find its way into my hands many times in the future.
“To make disciples is to teach people how to keep the faith. One keeps faith by following Jesus’ words rather than merely knowing faith’s content.”
Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by N. T. Wright. The fact that this is written by Wright is reason enough to have it on anyone’s top ten list, and that doesn’t make them a Wright “fanboy” by any means (even though I gladly join the ranks of Lawrence Garcia). While Wright’s previous Scripture and the Authority of God covered much related to the nature of Scripture, Surprised by Scripture provides twelve essays covering a variety of issues related to hermeneutics (reading, interpreting, and applying). Though I am not convinced that we should abandon a “literal” Adam, Wright’s essay on the topic is fascinating and his other essays are all worth the price of the book. Plus, it contains perhaps one of the best quotes I read this year:
“We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions.”
George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd. I’ll be reviewing this for the Society of Vineyard Scholars soon, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. First, I’ve read many biographies on Whitefield and many of his sermons because he is my favorite Great Awakening revivalist. This is by far the best biography that exists on Whitefield. The author, Kidd, blends perfectly history and interpretation in an extremely engaging way. I literally couldn’t put this book down. Get it. Get it now.
“In Whitefield’s world, conversion to faith in Christ was no polite, simple affair. You did not just walk an aisle and ask Jesus to come into your heart. It was a titanic spiritual struggle — the defining struggle of one’s life — to find out whether God or the devil would ultimately command your soul’s allegiance. Not that the devil had as much power as God: the dark enemy was infinitely weaker than the eternal Father. But for a lost, blinded sinner like Whitefield, the devil was the heart’s default option. God had to rescue you from the enemy’s clutches. God had to change your desires; he had to make you want to be rescued.”
Pentecostal Experience: An Ecumenical Encounter by Peter D. Neumann. For years I was told by some conservative Evangelicals that experience was, at worst, the evil enemy of orthodoxy and, at best, the red-headed stepchild of true Evangelicalism. Since I’m convinced that this is theological hogwash, historically unsustainable in the life of the Church, and completely ridiculous, Neumann’s book was a really interesting read. All who align with (p)entecostal ideals will find the spirituality examined fascinating and, more than likely, familiar. Neumann demonstrates, via Frank Macchia, Simon Chan, and Amos Yong, that the (p)entecostal experience of God is mediated by the Holy Spirit’s work through Scripture, tradition, and culture/society. Readers should also check out Kenneth J. Archer‘s A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture And Community.
“Pentecostalism cannot be rightly understood without an appreciation of the weight granted to encounters with the Spirit as a resource for theological reflection, even if this is not always being done self-consciously by Pentecostals.”
Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry and/or Eucharistic Participation: The Reconfiguration of Time and Space by Hans Boersma. Had the prodigious Caleb Maskell not recommended Boersma for a paper I wrote on Dr. Don Williams, I’d not have had the pleasure of reading these gems (Thanks, Caleb!). Boersma has helped shape my theology to robustly embrace a sacramental and pneumatological emphasis. Heavenly Participation calls us to acknowledge that “heavenly participation means that life on earth takes on a heavenly dimension.”
“Sacrifice is part and parcel of the Christian life. The reason why none of these sacrifices add a new, second sacrifice to that of Christ, and the reason why we don’t offer them up on our own strength, is that there really is only one sacrifice, namely, that of Christ—and the sacrifices that we offer up merely participate in that one sacrifice of Christ.”
How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith. Another recommendation from Caleb Maskell (now you know why I refer to him as “prodigious”). In edition to explaining Charles Taylor (he’s a difficult dude to grasp), Smith helps interpret Taylor and show how his ideas apply for the Church living in today’s postmodern world. This book provides ideas on how followers of Jesus can live in a secular world while not being of a secular world, so to speak (to be as Johannine as possible, ha!). This would be a great follow up to reading Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.
“It is Taylor’s complexity, nuance, and refusal of simplistic reductionisms that make him a reliable cartographer who provides genuine orientation in our secular age. A Secular Age is the map of globalized Gotham, a philosophical ethnography of our present.”
The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman and/or Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael J. Kruger. Trueman, with his hilariously pointed observations, makes it painfully clear that confessionalism is neither “evil,” “foolish,” or something that churches can avoid. All churches have doctrines, and the much-too-common suggestion that some churches don’t is, obviously, ridiculous. Additionally, The Creedal Imperative provides a way forward for churches to incorporate creeds or statements of faith. It’s a fascinating read. Kruger’s book is a good summary of how the New Testament came to be and why it has authority for Christians. Both of these books were equally interesting, though both aren’t full of surprises for anyone fluent in these disciplines.
“The burden that motivates my writing of this book is my belief that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church.”
Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison and/or The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, & Dwight J. Friesen. For anyone interested in missional theology, discipleship, contextualization, or ecclesiology, you must pick up a copy of these two books. In the future I plan on writing on how I am applying them within a small town context, but you should know that I simply loved the implications of both.
“The primary work of Slow Church is not attracting people to our church buildings, but rather cultivating together the resurrection life of Christ, by deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies.”
The Missional Journey: Multiplying Disciples and Churches that Transform the World by Robert E. Logan. Some of you know that I’ve had the pleasure of hanging with Dr. Logan a few times (and I even got featured on his blog, here and here). The dude is a missional genius and has more practical wisdom in his pinky than most people have in all the books they own. At any rate, The Missional Journey reminded me of the importance of making disciples who make disciples (multiplication) and provided a great resource for missional communities.
“Too often we compartmentalize our faith, separating serving from worship, or discipleship from church planting. This book is about how all these pieces fit together; if you remove one, the whole structure crumbles. The purpose of this book is to provide a broad map of the missional journey — and then equip you, the missional leader, to help people along each stage of the way.”
Pentecostal Ecclesiology: An Essay on the Development of Doctrine by Simon Chan and/or Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom by Chris E. W. Green. Yeah… I mention Simon Chan a lot. He’s a big deal in my world. He is the type of theologian that I could read for hours (and I often have!). His proposed ideas toward ecclesiology are fresh, exciting, and timely. What do you expect when you get Barth, Trinitarianism, pneumatology, and spirituality all covered by one of my favorite theologians? I expect nothing less… which is why it is on my list. The other book, Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper, came to my from my wife’s uncle from Frank Macchia. Thanks, Drs. Israel and Macchia! Green’s work on the Eucharist as a Pentecostal is well worth the time of anyone interested in how pneumatology relates to Communion, a subject I’m extremely interested in.
“The church could be said to be the means of the renewal of the whole creation, but it is a means not in the instrumentalist sense of being an agent doing something for the world, carrying out an extrinsic mission; rather, it is the means of renewal in its very life, by its being the Body of Christ indwelled by the Spirit.”
Well there you have it. The top ten books that I read in 2014. Looking forward to 2015…
What were your favorite books?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.