I am a church planter working with a nascent church that targets Millennials and folks who have given up on church. Most of my pastoral life has been spent (over 40 years) in pretty traditional churches that failed in their calling to be outposts rather than fortresses. My last 10-15 years have been occupied with reading books relating to the matter of how to go about being the church in this age. Some of them have been critiques of the church such as unChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons. This book results from research done among Millennials and their assessment of churches today, particularly Evangelicals.
Two statistics are startling to me and have caused me to want to think more and more deeply about what church should look like in this part of the 21st century. In the 2010 census it was found that 20% of respondents selected “none” in answer to the question, “What is your religious preference?” “None” has never been that high in previous censuses. Additionally researchers have begun looking at another group never watched called the “Dones.” This group has not left God. On the contrary, they are full of faith. But they are “done” with church. The fact that this group is new and growing is proof that we need to put our “pay attention” hats on.
I grew up in a fundamentalist church. As I grew more mature I began to look at the diversity of religious expression and wonder how so much, often screwy interpretation could arise from one book. My conclusion has been that hermeneutics (or interpretation) is the foundation for all this craziness. Scot McKnight, NT scholar and theologian, wrote an excellent book called The Blue Parakeet. I think this book is relevant to the discussion at hand because it promotes good, and what I would call, intelligent discussion regarding the Bible and its application. Much of the abandonment of church and faith as arisen from the discouragement that really bad interpretation causes. I really liked Parakeet.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch are always a good bet when wanting to read on the subject of being a missional church. Their book, The Shaping of Things to Come is typical of their excellent and compelling writing. I think that this book or The Forgotten Ways should be required reading for any church folk who want to adopt more effective and relevant ways to reach their communities. Hirsch and Frost are “top shelf” in my view.
A People’s Story of Christianity is Diana Butler Bass’ excellent overview of church history. Clearly it is not a thorough study, however it is excellent at making the reader appreciate how many barnacles have attached to the ship we call the church – barnacles of tradition, philosophy, often false teaching, and historical factors. Bass (and Hirsch as well) have made me more alert to the terrible impact that the Constantinian legalization of the Church in the early fourth century had on us all.
The last few years I have read several of Douglas John Hall’s books, and I am sorry I am so late coming to them. His book, Waiting for Gospel, is a wake up call for the church as it has gotten farther and farther away from Gospel. Hall believes the world is “waiting for Gospel” if only we would go back to that rather than what has taken its place. My experience as a church planter confirms what Hall is saying. People are truly hungry and waiting.
If you like theology, Hall’s What Christianity Is Not is a good read. His book Why Christian? is a wonderful apology (defense) of the Christian faith albeit a much more intelligent, respectful, and relevant one than those commonly written. Again, I love to read Hall, and have now ordered another of his books. He is in his 80’s now so there will probably not be any more of his writing if he keeps his word that he’s written his last book.
Finally, there are a couple of books that both delighted me, and I have to mention them. Vanishing Grace is Philip Yancy’s new contribution to his growing collection of books. In his usual articulate and compelling way, Yancy talks about the importance of grace and how it is in short supply in our world. Barbara Brown-Taylor’s newest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, attempts to blow open the idea that darkness is always bad. She successfully builds the case that there is something to be learned in the dark. Delicious reading. If you have not become acquainted with Brown-Taylor this would be a good primer.
Well, that’s it – 10 books. There should be something in this list to get your mental juices going. These are all people that I love to read and talk about. Enjoy.