Below are a few “new residents,” if you will, with whom pastors, educators, and church leaders might engage in conversation for the ongoing life and work of the church.
Engaging Biblical Authority: Perspectives on the Bible as Scripture, edited by William P. Brown. WJKP, 2007. Pb.,158 pp. $19.95.
In a time when faithful persons in the church read Scripture differently, what does it mean to say that the Bible is “authoritative”? These essays, written by a wide variety of authors, press this question in helpful ways.
Great Themes of the Bible, Volume 2, by Sarah S. Henrich. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 151 pp. $14.95.
Carrying on the work begun in the first volume of this series, Henrich explores in both Old and New Testament texts such themes as forgiveness, hope, justice, prayer, reconciliation, and many others. Thirteen themes make this book ideal for a quarter of adult study (questions for discussion are included at the end of each chapter).
Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, by Richard J. Foster. HarperOne, 2008. Hb., 228 pp. $24.95.
Foster has written a beautiful, engaging book that challenges anyone who reads the Bible for any purpose other than to be transformed by the Living God. Finding within the Bible not “a matter of religious beliefs and behavior” but “a dynamic, pulsating life,” Foster claims that this is “with God” life, by which we are transformed into the likeness and character of Jesus.
Our Mother Saint Paul, by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 229 pp. $24.95
Gaventa helpfully explores maternal images of both divine and apostolic work in Paul’s letters — particularly Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Romans. She situates these images within Paul’s larger apocalyptic framework in which a new creation is being born.
Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis that You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone, by John L. Thompson. Eerdmans, 2007. Pb., 324 pp. $20.
Every reader of the Bible has favorite texts; Thompson goes out of his way to identify leading contenders for un-favorite texts that raise difficult issues — Sarah and Hagar, Jephthah’s daughter, Paul on divorce, the imprecatory psalms, and more. He engages the conversation with the likes of Chrysostom, Augustine, Calvin, and a host of others in a way that enriches and enlightens the church’s reading in our own day.
The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology, by Patrick D. Miller. Eerdmans, 2007. Pb., 341 pp. $30.
Gathered herein are essays, some previously published, addressing the Ten Commandments, the Psalms, and Old Testament theology. The breadth and depth of Miller’s scholarship will continue to nurture and challenge the church.
A Community Called Atonement, by Scot McKnight. Abingdon, 2007. Pb., 177 pp. $17.
McKnight is discontented with theories and doctrines of the atoning work of Christ that remain on the shelf or in the mind. He articulates an understanding of atonement that is conversant with Scripture and tradition, and which has implications for the shaping of the “missional praxis” of the Christian community as it embodies in its own life a pattern of God’s atoning work.
Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, edited by Rolf A. Jacobson. Augsburg, 2008. Pb., 190 pp. $12.99.
Written in the conviction that “one can talk about deadly serious matters without being deadly boring” (1), this theological dictionary is laugh-out-loud funny, and remarkably perceptive. With his brief entries on a host of topics, Jacobson engages biblical texts, church history and tradition, current events and culture — reminding the reader all along that theology truly is an enjoyable venture for the church.
Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith, by Alister McGrath. IVP, 2006. Pb., 156 pp. $13.
Seeing doubt as “an invitation to grow in faith and understanding, rather than something we need to panic about or get preoccupied with” (12), McGrath explores doubt in Scripture, within other worldviews, and in a variety of personal experiences. He encourages his readers to engage doubt actively, offering many suggestions for handling the doubts that come along with a life of faith.
God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, by Bart D. Ehrman. HarperOne, 2008. Hb., 294 pp. $25.95.
The realities of suffering led Ehrman away from his pastorate into a life of agnosticism. Here he wrestles with several perspectives on suffering within Scripture, concluding with an exhortation for his readers to alleviate suffering around them and to live as fully (and help others live as fully) as they can.
Philosophy for Understanding Theology, second edition, by Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 336 pp. $29.95.
Philosophy has always influenced theology, so the authors are convinced that a basic understanding of philosophy will thus enrich the church’s theological work. This classic text explores the influence of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Hegel and others on the church’s theology throughout its history, with updated chapters that address recent developments in postmodernism.
Preaching and Worship
Countdown to Sunday: A Daily Guide for Those Who Dare to Preach, by Chris Erdman. Brazos, 2007. Pb., 208 pp. $14.99.
Here is a book written by one who preaches weekly, for those who preach weekly. Erdman offers a thoughtful, practical, insightful, and at times playful series of brief readings that take the preacher from Monday to Sunday. Useful for personal reading and reflection, or for discussion with colleagues. This is a real gem.
God Against Religion: Rethinking Christian Theology Through Worship, by Matthew Myer Boulton. Eerdmans, 2008. Pb., 242 pp. $28.
With Karl Barth’s critique of “religion” in hand, Boulton articulates a liturgical theology in which God is against “religion,” and even against “worship,” for sake of transforming them from within. Barth, Luther, and Calvin are constant companions as Boulton explores the claim that worship is simultaneously an epitome of human sin, and a means by which God is present for us in Christ nonetheless.
Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon: Preaching and Popular Movies, by Timothy B. Cargal. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 183 pp. $19.95.
Preachers often draw illustrations from popular films, but not always well. Cargal offers helpful guidance for “hearing” a film on its own terms, and then for engaging it in dialogue with the biblical text in the course of preaching. He illustrates the text with several of his own sermons, which make use of such dialogue with recent movies.
Speaking Conflict: Stories of a Controversial Jesus, by David Buttrick. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 222 pp. $24.95.
With this book, Buttrick completes his three-volume Speaking series, begun with Speaking Parables and Speaking Jesus. Here he engages several conflict narratives from the gospels (primarily Mark, with reference to the others), exploring the nuances of each story, and supplementing his reflections with examples from his own sermons of how such texts might be preached.
Touching the Altar: The Old Testament for Christian Worship, edited by Carol M. Bechtel. Eerdmans, 2008. Pb., 211 pp. $18.
Challenging those who would look past Old Testament texts in preparing for worship, the essays included here articulate a rich vision of the usefulness of the Old Testament in shaping worship and preaching. Essays address the Sabbath, the relation of the Psalms to our search for justice, drama and the sacred, and more.
The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word, by Walter Brueggemann. Fortress, 2007. Hb., 212 pp. $35.
This collection of essays gathers Brueggemann’s counsel for those who stand before a congregation to preach. Deeply conversant with current issues and trends in biblical and homiletical studies, Brueggemann encourages preachers to stick close to the text, recognizing the power of God speaking through the text to subvert and transform the powers of this world.
What Language Shall I Borrow? The Bible and Christian Worship, by Ronald P. Byars. Eerdmans, 2008. Pb., 184 pp. $18.
Ron Byars knows that words shape worlds, and so explores the sorts of words that the church should use for worship. Rather than colloquial, folksy words, Byars exhorts the church to “relearn the use of scriptural language, and use it boldly” (7), tracing the use of such words in The Book of Common Worship as he pushes beyond the words to the good news they proclaim.
Church Administration: Programs, Process, Purpose, by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White. Fortress, 2007. Hb., 339 pp. $25.
Recognizing that church administration is often an afterthought, the authors propose that to administer is to “add ministry,” and thus to enable congregations to thrive in every part of their life. Their very practical suggestions for organization and administration of the ordinary life of congregations are rooted in scripture, and frequently in the reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church, by Paul Louis Metzger. Eerdmans, 2007. Pb., 201 pp. 16.
Metzger maintains that divisions of race and class are an ever-present reality in the church — today enforced by a consumerism that divides us from one another and encourages homogenous church growth models. Drawing on, and challenging, his evangelical background, he encourages the church to move beyond such divisions by actively building diverse community.
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin H. Friedman. Seabury, 2007. Pb., 260 pp. $28.
Continuing and extending the work begun in his classic Generation to Generation, Rabbi Friedman explores herein the leadership implications of his “family systems” understanding of congregations. Friedman’s unexpected death left this work unfinished, but there is nonetheless much wisdom here.
Holy Places: Matching Sacred Space with Mission and Message, by Nancy DeMott, Tim Shapiro, and Brent Bill. Alban, 2007. Pb., 257 pp. $18.
Here is a useful work for congregations contemplating construction or renovation of church facilities. Its emphasis —the form of space follow the function of mission — is well-illustrated with charts, illustrations, and extensive appendices of resources for fundraising, building, and more.
Places of Promise: Finding Strength in Your Congregation’s Location, by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce. WJKP, 2008. Pb., 130 pp. $16.95.
Drawing on the results of the massive U.S. Congregational Life Survey, Woolever and Bruce offer a helpful challenge to congregations who assume that the grass is greener elsewhere. Rather than blaming context for church challenges, the authors encourage congregations to engage their contexts actively, matching their ministries to the realities of their community.
The Presbyterian Handbook for Pastors. Geneva, 2008. Pb., 216 pp. $16.95.
This brief book is full of humor, and some very sound counsel. Topics include “How to handle a ringing cell phone during worship,” “How to preach a prophetic word without getting fired,” “How to delegate,” “How to make an effective home visit,” and many, many more.
Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, by John Koenig. Morehouse, 2007. Pb., 144 pp. $16.
Coffee and donuts, covered-dish lunches, Wednesday Night Suppers — so many ways the church eats together. Koenig explores the deep spiritual significance of these and other shared meals, drawing together Eucharist, fellowship, justice, and mission — even offering helpful suggestions for times “when meals go wrong.”
Transforming Leadership: New Vision for a Church in Mission, by Norma Cook Everist and Craig L. Nessan. Fortress, 2008. Pb., 235 pp. $20.
With the conviction that God is at work transforming all congregations at all times, Everist and Nessan offer truly practical theology that guides pastors and church leaders in ways to share in God’s transformative work — both within the congregation, and within the leaders themselves. Each chapter in this helpful work is supplemented with questions and activities for reflection, suggestions for spiritual practices, and ideas for transforming action.
Ministry with Children and Youth
Book, Bath, Table, and Time: Christian Worship as Source and Resource for Youth Ministry, by Fred P. Edie. Pilgrim, 2007. Pb., 258 pp. $24.
Grounding youth ministry in the ordo or pattern of the ancient church’s life, Edie lifts up Scripture, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the church’s calendar as rich resources for ministry in our time. Full of stories that reflect realities of life for many youth today, Edie’s work truly is practical theology, drawing together cultural concerns and the deep practices of the church in a fruitful encounter.
Lives to Offer: Accompanying Youth on the Their Vocational Quests, by Dori Grinenko Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer. Pilgrim, 2007. Pb., 191 pp. $20.
Challenging a cultural “curriculum of vocation” that values getting and spending more than it values contributing to the common good, Baker and Mercer claim that the discernment of vocation in response to God’s purpose should be the heart of congregational youth ministry. In their model, adults, parents, and friends accompany youth in this vocational quest, listening for God’s purpose, and finding ways to respond to God’s grace.
Losers, Loners, and Rebels: The Spiritual Struggles of Boys, by Robert C. Dykstra, Allan Hugh Cole, Jr., and Donald Capps. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 216 pp. $19.95.
A host of books speak to issues of adolescence in girls; not so many for boys. The authors address common self-perceptions of early adolescent boys, noting how their growing self-awareness, self-transcendence, and self-sufficiency shape their spiritual lives as adults.
Making a Home for Faith: Nurturing the Spiritual Life of Your Children, by Elizabeth F. Caldwell. Revised and Updated. Pilgrim, 2007. Pb., 143 pp. $16.
While much of Christian education happens at the church, Caldwell offers a rich resource for helping families nurture and express faith within ordinary life at home. The revised edition includes an extensive bibliography of books and Web sites that will help families live out their faith in an increasingly pluralistic culture. This is a good book to read alone, or to discuss with others (questions for reflection and discussion are included at the end of each chapter).
Other Good Reads …
Caring for Mother: A Daughter’s Long Goodbye, by Virginia Stem Owens. WJKP, 2007. Pb., 176 pp. $16.95.
As she begins this painful, truthful account of her mother’s journey into dementia and death, Owens asks, “What makes a being human?” (xiii). Her reflections will surely be helpful for others who also accompany loved ones through such “long goodbyes,” reminding them that they are not alone, even as they wrestle with the difficult questions that Owens so helpfully poses.
Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life, by Margaret Kim Peterson. Jossey-Bass, 2007. Hb., 188 pp. $21.95.
At times reminiscent of Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, Peterson articulates a biblical, theological understanding of the gifts and tasks needed for maintaining the life of a home. While she does not claim that they are the only things that matter, such daily disciplines as cooking, laundry, shopping, cleaning, and hospitality do Really Matter, and can be a means of grace for those who do them and for those who receive them.
Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, by Dennis Okholm. Brazos, 2007. Pb., 144 pp. $12.99.
Okholm’s eclectic faith journey — Pentecostal, Baptist, and now Presbyterian — intersects richly with the rule of St. Benedict. The “extraordinarily ordinary” (p. 21) Benedictine habits of humility, obedience, hospitality, stability and others hold out promise for developing deeper and more whole lives of faith.
Much Madness Is Divinest Sense: Wisdom in Memoirs of Soul-Suffering, by Kathleen J. Greider. Pilgrim, 2007. Hb., 336 pp. $24.
Drawing on the memoirs of a wide variety of folk who have endured enormous suffering (particularly with depression and mental illness), Greider finds within their writing “a profundity of spiritual, theological, and religious inquiry” which is offered “with a complexity, rawness, and honesty that invites trust” (p. 10). She shares the wisdom of these sufferers in a way that encourages healing and hope, offering a helpful resource for caregivers.
The Parables of Dr. Seuss, by Robert L. Short. WJKP, 2008. Pb., 95 pp. $16.95
All who have read Dr. Seuss with children or grandchildren (or as children themselves) and suspected that they overheard whispers of gospel will find those suspicions confirmed here. Robert Short extends the work he has done with Peanuts cartoons to the writings of Seuss, exploring such tales as The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, and more.
The Sky Is Not a Ceiling: An Astronomer’s Faith, by Aileen O’Donoghue. Orbis, 2007. Pb., 174 pp. $18.
In this spiritual autobiography, O’Donoghue delves into the depths of the night sky, and into her own journey from and to the church. Along the way, she tells of personal struggles, professional fulfillment, and of a great God who is present in both light and darkness.
Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, edited by Paul F. Ford. HarperOne, 2008. Hb., 391 pp. $23.95.
Ford has arranged portions of Lewis’s collected letters chronologically according to three categories: spiritual companionship, discipleship, and direction. The letters reveal both the direction that Lewis received from trusted friends and colleagues, and that he shared with dozens of others.
Randy Harris is pastor of Pickens Church in Pickens, S.C. and book editor for The Presbyterian Outlook.