The meditations of Dietrich Bonhoeffer provide pithy theological and pastoral guidance for a lived faith. The meditations draw upon the great themes of Advent and Christmas and are accompanied by stunning photographs that enhance the beauty of the word. It’s an excellent gift book.
Brain Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry
Abingdon, Nashville, Tenn. 196 pages
This is a fascinating exploration of the implications of neuroscience for pastoral ministry. The author is a long-time pastor who became interested in brain research after his young daughter experienced a brain tumor. He applies the findings of brain research to leadership in very helpful ways. “Neuroscience is like a magnifying glass that helps us see things we otherwise could not see.”
The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision
Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
Zondervan, Medina, Ohio. 192 pages
These two evangelical pastors with roots in the academy have a vision of the pastoral vocation being renewed by the discipline of theology. They have formed The Center for Pastor Theologians to aid this effort. Drawing upon the earlier history of pastoral ministry, they argue: “Despite the bifurcation between pastoral ministry and theology, the pastoral vocation remains vested with the theological leadership of the local congregation.” They seek an “ecclesial renewal of theology” and the “theological renewal of the church.”
Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk Into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church
Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus
WJK, Louisville, Ky. 89 pages
The aim of this brief book is to draw attention of the heart of Christianity by exploring the impact of Pope Francis’ teachings upon the practice of faith. It grew out of a series of sermons offered at Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. The book is an irenic attempt at ecumenical cooperation between Roman Catholics and Protestants that begins with the common core of Christianity. It would great for small group study.
Readings in the History of Christian Theology: Volume 1 (Revised Edition)
William C. Placher and Derek R. Nelson
WJK, Louisville, Ky. 176 pages
Bill Placher was an astounding theologian and brilliant teacher of Christian history who died much too young. His life and his books provide a rich legacy. This early book on Christian history from the early church to the Middle Ages has been edited and revised by a fellow professor. It includes short readings from major figures of the period, providing an accessible history of Christian thought. Of course, it will be most helpful to students, but we all know that the neglect of history is the source of present ignorance.
For the Love of All Creatures: The Story of Grace in Genesis
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 162 pages
The author is a theologian and founder of the Animals and Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion. This is one of the finest and most clearly written books on biblical spirituality that draws upon love for all creatures and the good creation of God. Yes, Greenway is also quick to point out that his argument is “wholly philosophical.” Refusing to be relegated to a narrow sectarian space, he writes, “I am a Christian reflecting on Hebrew and Christian Scripture, but my argument meets public criteria of reasonableness.” He believes it will succeed if it indeed meets the confirmation of a wide range of critics who receive it with an open mind and reasonable judgment. This is a story of love. All creatures will rejoice at the findings.
The Road to Character
Random House, New York. 300 pages
Brooks continues his explorations into virtue, drawing upon wide range of theologians, poets and philosophers to identify the values that build strong character. Naming the “Big Me” as culture that currently defines us, he draws a helpful distinction between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues” and asks penetrating questions about the reasons we choose one over the other. That choice, he points out, has critical consequences. Pastors will find this a great source for teaching and preaching.
Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members To Get Things Done
John Wimberly Jr.
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md. 108 pages
John Wimberly combines his long pastoral experience with his organizational skills in this exceedingly practical book. All congregations are searching for ways that will enable members to serve without being overwhelmed or discouraged by isolation. This book makes a compelling argument for team ministry. For congregations already engaged in team ministry, this will be an encouragement; for those who are looking for new ways to engage their members, this book will be a Godsend.
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
Convergent Books, New York. 190 pages
The author is the (now famous) founder of House for all Saints and Sinners in Denver, Colorado. She bears witness again and again to the ways that “God keeps showing up in the least likely people.” This is the story of an unlikely church and its pastor seeking to be an authentic community where people are transformed by the grace of God. Read about the community and then follow her advice to seek a similar setting. “Gather a small number of people once a month to simply share a meal and pray together. … See for yourself what happens. You might be surprised. I was.”
Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World
William P. Brown
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 168 pages
What a marvelous book that encourages reader to revel in wonder! Brown is a biblical scholar who explores passages from Genesis to Revelation in an attempt to evoke the wonder that implicitly lies within. He probes, ponders and wonders aloud with readers as he follows his method to “generative questions” that are not always answered. He says, “This book is about reading Scripture with and eye for wonder.” What happens when we read the Bible with such a disposition toward wonder? The consequence will be felt long after this astonishingly creative book is finished.
Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
Spiegel & Grau, New York. 301 pages
Brené Brown continues to show the way to become more courageous is through daring to be vulnerable. She makes explicit that falling is going to happen to anyone who dares to walk bravely. Brown writes plainly and shares stories with compelling clarity. Her argument is all the more convincing because of data that undergirds her stories of real people who have learned to rise again. She is increasingly open about her spiritual grounding in the Christian tradition. Her goal is wholehearted living; her method is encouraging her readers to integrate all experience of life, including the falls. That should sound familiar to Bible readers.
The Year Without a Purchase
WJK, Louisville, Ky. 249 pages
In this witty memoir of his family’s experience, the author provides practical suggestions on ways to live simply with integrity and the joy that comes from connecting with others.
Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel and Pastoral Care
Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 155 pages
The author is a pastoral counselor who deftly combines theological depth with psychological understanding, bringing both to bear upon the traumas of human life. There are few books, if any, in pastoral counseling that are this rich in insight as well as practice. “The overriding aim of this book is to illuminate the impact of trauma on people’s lives … and present practical strategies for healing, from a center in the gospel.” This is an essential book.
The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters
Michael J. O’Loughlin
HarperOne, San Francisco. 235 pages
Despite the cheesy title, this is actually a fine survey of Pope Francis’ theology through an analysis of his Twitter feed. The pope has embraced social media as a tool for evangelism.
The Thirst of God: Contemplating God’s Love with Three Women Mystics
WJK, Louisville, Ky. 169 pages
The author is a constructive theologian and professor with a deep desire to recover the forgotten, hidden and banished theological strands of the Christian tradition in order to point us toward God’s wide love. This is an exploration of three women mystics: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete and Julian of Norwich. The harsh, dark side of Christianity is well known; Farley’s courageous book shows us the shimmering light of love through the writings and experience of these women.
ROY HOWARD is pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland, and book editor of The Presbyterian Outlook.