Winter books: Briefly noted

Dare to Lead
Brené Brown
Random House, 320 pages

Brené Brown continues to apply her principles of vulnerability, shame and courage in a variety of settings. Here, she focuses on the skills necessary for leaders to be courageous — with a capacity to endure failure, learn from it and rise stronger. Her work is based on detailed research that makes it more convincing and compelling.

How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going
Susan Beaumont
Rowman & Littlefield, 184 pages

We live in an “in-between time” — a liminal season of turbulent change. Leaders will find in Susan Beaumont a clear-headed, experienced guide who also has a profound sense of the spiritual orientation that is necessary for congregational leaders. She brings this combination of theological depth and organizational understanding to bear upon the tasks of leading when the answers are elusive but the need for change is clear. Beaumont has a proven record as a church consultant, which adds to the value of this new book.

Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life
J. Dana Trent
Chalice Press, 160 pages

In the same vein, but different from Lori Erickson, J. Dana Trent takes readers along as she travels the last days of her mother’s life. She brings humor and wit to what otherwise might be a morbid subject. Along the way, we learn very practical lessons in the art of dying as well as accompanying those preparing to die. She is indeed a “death doula,” a mid-wife for those dying. As a result, we learn much about loving those who are dying so that we might continue living honestly and with love.

For the Life of the World
Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun
Brazos Press, 208 pages

The authors, both academic theologians, have issued this “manifesto” to theologians whom, they argue, have “lost our sense of divine calling to grapple with the ultimate questions of human existence.” They want theology and theologians to address life in ways that draw forth human flourishing. The same manifesto could be urged upon pastors who, after all, are resident theologians for the congregations they serve. This book will strengthen the resolve of pastors to live out the calling to be pastor-theologians for the flourishing of life within their congregations and communities.

Holy Disunity
Layton E. Williams
WJK Press, 215 pages

The word used most often in this much-needed book is “gift.” Layton Williams sees the messiness of life, including life in the communities to which we belong, through the varied lens of gift. Through this argument is a gift that can lead to “sacred dialogue.” Hunger is a gift that leads to the Table of the Lord, and more. She leads us through these and more gifts with an honest and hopeful voice, daring to be vulnerable without sacrificing integrity.

Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety
Henri J.M. Nouwen
Convergent Books, 144 pages

This is a rare collection of Henri Nouwen’s talks that he gave during a time of personal crisis, after returning from Peru to join Harvard Divinity School. The topic was deeply personal as he was simultaneously navigating the competitive, anxious world of Harvard with his own growing isolation. The question of how to follow Jesus in a climate of social anxiety was a persistent question. We continue to live in such a time and Nouwen remains an essential guide for following Jesus.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Robin Diangelo
Beacon Press, 192 pages

The author is white. She argues cogently that white people, particularly those who describe themselves as progressive, fail to see how they uphold racism. Her project is to explore the phenomenon known widely as “white fragility.” It belongs on the essential bookshelf for those who want to understand more deeply the underlying patterns that uphold both white supremacy and racism.

The Word Made Flesh
Ian A. McFarland
WJK Press, 259 pages

Pastors in the local church have a vocational obligation to think theologically. It is no accident that they are called teaching elders. Yet, with the press of other duties, theology is often neglected. The church suffers. Where to begin? This is a robust reengagement with the Incarnation through a retrieval of a “Chalcedonian theology without reserve.” Ian McFarland, a Lutheran who now teaches at Emory University, is an able guide. This is real theology that enriches the mind and the spirit — the kind of food that makes for thoughtful pastors who preach and teach the gospel with depth.

The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey
Brian D. McLaren
Fortress Press, 282 pages

Brian McLaren extends his theological explorations with this memoir, which is actually a travel book that combines love for justice and compassion with a desire for wonder and God. It’s an intriguing book that alerts the reader to pilgrimage as a way of going deeper in God and Christian practice. McLaren also signals his growing conviction about the necessity of spiritual practice that is grounded in creation theology. This project is part of a larger series with more to come.

What Do Our Neighbors Believe? Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Micah Greenstein, Kendra G. Hotz, John Kaltner
WJK Press, 190 pages

This book sets the new standard for adult forums and Sunday school classes in congregations that seek greater understanding of our neighbors.

Becoming like Creoles
Curtiss Paul DeYoung
Fortress Press, 144 pages

The contributing authors are working at the intersection of theological reflection and instances of injustice, cultural diversity and oppression. They argue that to become like creoles is to stand at the intersection and employ the metaphors that will enable the church to bear witness. This is a rich resource for cultural research, biblical exegesis and theological reflection.

The New Testament: A Translation
David Bentley Hart
Yale University Press, 616 pages

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher and cultural commentator. The purpose of this translation is to read the Scripture unadorned with doctrine. To hear the text in its unvarnished bracing quality is the goal. Yet this translation has its critics, particularly those in the Reformed tradition. The New Testament doesn’t affirm who we are. Rather, Hart writes, “to live as the New Testament language requires, Christians would have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth. … Surely we cannot do that, can we?”

Written to be Heard
Paul Borgman and Kelly James Clark
Eerdmans, 328 pages

The authors take of the challenge of N.T. Wright that the “missing middles” of the Gospels are usually forgotten. They intend for reader to read as if “hearing” what is the main message of the Gospels. They bring great literary skill to the task along with clarity of purpose: hearing the Gospels as astonishing, radical reversals. Preachers and teachers, this is for you.

Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper
Lori Erickson
WJK Press, 180 pages

In recent years, there has been a renewed movement to speak candidly about death. Perhaps ironically, the conversations have not been as common in churches. Lori Erickson’s work stands in that gap. She is a travel writer and an Episcopal deacon who writes from her own experience of the unexpected death of her brother and the transition of her mother to a nursing home. What’s important about her work is the cross-cultural perspective and the attention to mortality that is crucial for living consciously.

Advent for Everyone (Matthew)
N.T. Wright
WJK Press, 128 pages

Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes
Cynthia M. Campbell
WJK Press, Louisville, KY 106 pages

All pastors and church leaders look for ways to engage their congregations during Advent. These two resources by stellar scholars and pastors fit the bill perfectly. N.T. Wright focuses on Matthew while Cynthia Campbell takes a very creative approach, imagining each Gospel as a house. In doing so, she invites to imagine in fresh ways the season of the coming of our Lord.

Everyday Prayer with John Calvin
Donald K. McKim
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 136 pages

Prayer is the heart of the Christian life. The author has provided a rich selection of quotes on prayer from Calvin to provide a devotional introduction that will enhance the practice of prayer. Calvin once described himself as “ravished by God’s beauty.” This book may help you be the same.

The Night of His Birth
Katherine Paterson (Lisa Aisato, illustrator)
Flyaway Books, 32 pages

Christmas books are not unusual. What makes this one different is the combination of stunning illustrations and lovely writing. The first line describes my response to the whole book: “Sing out, my soul, the wonder.”