Reading Lists

 

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There are two purposes for this page. First, there is lots of debate and opinions that fly around concerning what it means t be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a very interesting and crucial topic to study and explore, and there is at least one thing that all the scholars I have read agree upon: at minimum a disciple is a learner. The contemporary disciple of Jesus ought to pursue growth in knowledge and the application of knowledge, especially in the areas of God and self. That said, it appears to me that the disciple of Jesus must therefore be a reader and listener. Listed below are some resources which I have found helpful in my walk with Jesus.

Second, I get asked for book recommendations and my thoughts on different titles pretty frequently, so below are books I endorse, if I have reviewed them on my blog then there will be a hyperlink so that you can check out my review and decide if it is what you are looking for.

Books for Beginners (General Theology and entertaining reads) – These are books that I think layout some key principles of the Christian faith and have some staying power as classics. Thus if you are just entering into the overwhelming world of Christian books and publishing, here is a good place to start.

Systematic Theology – Maybe you are looking for some deeper study, these are big books, I mean BIG books, but they are very readable and cover—though broadly—the full gamut of theology. Within Christian theology there are a ton of topics and debates. I like the majority of each of these books though there are aspects I disagree with. I imagine you will find the same.

Targeted Theology – Systematic books cover as much as they can and therefore need to do so briefly. Each topic in the texts above simplifies, in some cases over simplifies, the issues they are addressing. For more in depth study you need to find books that target specific issues. These are some I like very much.

Discipleship -Theology is incomplete if it ends with merely head knowledge, but the goal of good theology is to move from head knowledge into a deeper reverence of God and a closer walk with him. While we call reverence doxology, the act of following Jesus is known as discipleship. Discipleship is one of my favorite topics, but the books on discipleship vary greatly in style and content. Many books are written by popular pastors and do little to add to a robust understanding of discipleship, they simply apply their favorite metaphor and language to the process rather than new insight. Some get it wrong all together. Some were sermons series and were probably great, but not necessarily intended for a wider audience. But the ones listed below are the books that I have found describe discipleship in an accurate way or provide helpful material with which to critically think about discipleship (Longenecker’s text has multiple authors some I agree with and some I don’t, a fantastic resources for challenging view of discipleship and requiring one to dive into the New Testament).

Spiritual Formation – Often the flip-side of discipleship is spiritual formation. There is a debate about the interaction between these two, but suffice to say there is kind of a ‘you know it when you see it’ kind of difference. The books in the spiritual formation section of your bookstore are often going to be from Christian spiritual gurus like Richard Foster, but a good spiritual formation text will be deeply theological. A pit fall many contemporary texts fall into is buzz words. Good spiritual formation avoids buzz words because they are often devoid of coherent meaning and cause misunderstandings in other theological areas (Kingdom is a big buzzword that the SF crowd often misunderstands).

Christian Virtue – How do we see spiritual formation and discipleship? Is it measurable? Can we look with confidence for evidence? Or is it merely subjective? The key is the fruit of the Spirit. As we grow the prevalence and intensity of the fruit of the Spirit will be striking in our lives. While we may not notice, as you don’t notice whether you got any taller this month, reflections, journals, and community reveal them to us. The books in this list take their focus on one or more of the aspects of the Spirit’s fruit, which I would like to point out is also the character of Christ and Christian virtue.

The Church and Society – I used to call this section contextualization or mission, but the emerging church crowd used those words so often that I am not sure what they mean any more. These books are about how the church engages culture. This section of the Christian bookstore is usually either non-existent in conservative stores or very large and theologically problematic in liberal ones. Here are some theologically sound texts that speak to how the church (and individual Christians) should function in this fallen world.

  • Culture Making by Andy Crouch (purchase on Amazon)
  • Christ + City by Jon Dennis (purchase on Amazon)
  • Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (purchase on Amazon)
  • To Change the World by James Davison Hunter (purchase on Amazon)
  • Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gage Lyons (purchase on Amazon)
  • Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken (purchase on Amazon)
  • Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight (purchase on Amazon)
  • For the City by Darrian Patrick and Matt Carter (purchase on Amazon)
  • Onward by Russell Moore (purchase on Amazon)
  • Why Cities Matter Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (purchase on Amazon)
  • A Public Faith in Action by Mirsolv Volf and Ryan McNally-Linz (purchase on Amazon)
  • Why Cities Matter by Justin Buzzard and Stephen Um (purchase on Amazon)
  • No Place for Truth by David Wells (purchase on Amazon)
  • God in the Whirlwind by David Wells (purchase on Amazon)

Church Ministry – There is a lot that goes into ministry, and there are a number of different angels to look at it from.

Marriage/Relationships and Masculinity – An issue of increasing importance in the world today is the understanding of the essence and purpose of marriage and the man’s role in the home, church, and society. These books are very helpful in articulating both.

The No Fly List – I don’t mean to be demeaning, honestly I don’t, but there are a lot of mediocre books (and a fair amount of less than mediocre books) out there. They aren’t very for a variety of reasons, some are poorly written, some are poorly researched, some are superficial, and some (in my opinion) completely misread the issue or fail to really think deeply about it. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a list like this, but the low quality of work by some authors is unacceptable, there are many good books out there and yet we over crowd shelves with mediocre reprints of the same stuff over and over again, and then have the audacity to sell it for $20. Ridiculous. All that is by way of justifying something I am about to do, which I feel kind of bad about, but have already made up my mind to do it. This is the “no fly list” which is a list of authors who have written mediocre (or worse) books on really interesting topics. In my opinion it is more difficult to write a bad book than a good book on an interesting topic. Anyway, these authors have put out books on eye-catching topics, gotten me to spend some money on them (which I don’t have a lot of by the way), and then laid an egg. If an author does that twice, he/she ends up here, the no fly list, and I will never pick up another book of theirs with out personal recommendation from a respected source.

  • Craig Groschel
    • #Struggles, It, and Confessions of a Pastor ($16.05, $13.51, and $0.01 – this book is now out of print).
    • Groschel represents one of the things that drives me crazy about Christian publishing: most pastors are not writers. To be a pastor is often to be called to a particular people located in a particular place during a particular time. Many pastors are called simply to this, precious few pastors are called to minister to a wider audience by their writing. Groschel is not John Piper, or Tim Keller, or Kevin DeYoung. That is to say he is not a good writer. Yet he has written over 10 books. Nor are the subjects he covers novel. There is no need for any of his books because they fail to contribute anything new or any new angle to the subjects he is discussing. Currently (6/22/16) his book The Christian Atheist is $1.99 on kindle, I’d rather buy a gum ball.
    • I decided to put Groschel on this list after reading #Struggles, it was on sale for kindle so I picked it up. The book is about the dangers of technology for maintaining deep relationships. The hypocrisy of someone warning about the dangers of technology for changing the way we relate to people when that someone also invented the idea of an ENTIRELY ONLINE CHURCH (that isn’t a church that holds no physical buildings, there are several places you can gather for worship, but you can “attend” the church via your computer) is so thick it makes me queasy. On top of that the book itself is pretty unspectacular.
  • John Eldridge
    • Wild at Heart and Epic ($15.00 and $5.00)*
    • Eldridge’s work was masterful when I was sixteen and had not read a whole chapter of the Bible in one sitting or thought deeply about masculinity and marriage and everyday life. Having now spent six years studying scripture and theology (2009-2015) in an academic setting, his suggestions and thoughts concerning masculinity are a bit troubling. He doesn’t get everything wrong, but what he does get wrong, he gets really, really wrong.
  • Stephen Mansfield
    • Searching for God and Guinness and Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men ($20.00 and $20.00)
    • I don’t talk about it a lot online because I want to be cautious of others’ struggles, but I love beer, with real flavor. A good red ale. A hoppy lager. A filling porter with a hint of coffee. In the craft brewery world there is a lot to like and not much I don’t. That said, Guinness is the gold standard of beers. It is not necessarily the best, but it is that by which all others are compared. Needless to say, I had high hopes for Mansfield’s book. They were misplaced. Not deep enough to be of interest as a history book, not profound enough to be meaningfully edifying, it just kind of skated across the surface—not surprising then that several of his books are on politicians and their faiths (pause for laughs). I gave him another shot when working on a book of my own on masculinity. Rinse and repeat. Shallow and uninspiring, which worried me since we had some similar thoughts.
  • Mark Driscoll
    • Vintage Jesus, Doctrine, Vintage Church, Real Marriage ($20.00, $20.00, $20.00, and $20.00)
    • I actually have two other books by Mark, but they were helpful and good, so they don’t make the list, but as Mark’s church increased, the quality of his writing decreased. With Mark many of the issues have been talked about ad nausium, so I will leave most of it alone. Beyond the normal criticisms, I find Mark’s work to be not well-written and often overly simplistic or avoidant of some major issues. For example, in Vintage Church, while Mark does a admirable—though boring—job tackling several issues, he misses the boat on video-preaching and multi-campus ministry, which given his ministry is kind of a big deal. The best of the books listed is Doctrine, which ultimately falls flat because it contributes nothing new.
  • Rob Bell
    • Sex God and Love Wins ($15.00 and $15.00)
    • I am leaving Bell’s books Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians off the list because reading is not about finding stuff to agree with, but engaging with conversation partners, I felt both of those books, though I disagreed with portions, offered some interesting discussion. Sex God and Love Wins, however, are best described as off the rails. Sex God had the chance to pose interesting questions about the connection between sex and spirituality, which are becoming increasingly important, but failed to do so in any coherent manner. Love Wins…well…is Love Wins. That is to say, calling it a glorified blog post with little theological or biblical support would be generous.
  • Donald Miller
    • Through Painted Deserts, Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What, Father Fiction, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Scary Close.
    • Miller’s books can be summarized as follows: A group of loosely related biographical essays that, while displaying some skill in writing, display a lack of theological understanding, church history, or spiritual formation; rather they are a perfect study in the hinderance that lazy spirituality and neglect of biblical means of grace can be on ones spiritual growth. Miller’s writing career spans several decades and shows a troubling lack of self-awareness or humility.

*Denotes the cost of the book when I bought it if purchased in a bookstore (i.e. not on Amazon.com).

-tdh

 

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