Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Some of My Favorite Books

This list could be huge so I'm going to limit myself to twelve which have either impacted me the most or to which I frequently return (the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are givens). In no particular order...


  • Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright
    • The bodily Resurrection of Jesus is at the center of everything in our Faith. The goal when we die is NOT to go to heaven. It is to be bodily resurrected and live in the new heavens and earth as a royal priest. Is your mind blown? Good. Read this book. 
  • A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
    • Effective leaders are self-differentiated. Don't know what that means? That's why you should read this. Relationships are the name of the game. The best book on leadership and relationships I've ever read. I was introduced to this by then-Dean of Nashotah House, Bishop Ed Salmon, who invited our Senior Class to meet him at the local pub on Wednesday nights to discuss this and he'd buy the first round. Now how can you pass that up?
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • The chapter titled the Grand Inquisitor is my favorite piece of literature. Dostoyevsky summarizes human sin, world history, politics, religion, greed, freedom-and-slavery all in one mythical conversation which is an exposition of Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness. It's one thing to write compelling theology. It's masterful to turn that into great literature. 
  • Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey
    • A new favorite. I loathe what I call "Hallmark Card Christianity." A Christianity that is divorced from the culture in the which the Scriptures were written with its idioms, languages, religious and political systems, and values; and instead anachronistically imposes its own familiar culture onto what the Bible says. Centuries of heretical theology, not to mention bad art and music, have dominated much of Christianity because we impose our culture onto the Scriptures instead reading it in its own cultural setting. 
    • Kenneth E. Bailey spent 40 years in the Middle East, mastering its languages, living among people who share the culture of the Bible (such as Bedouin shepherds) and studying the Judaism and early Christian Faith that are still alive and practiced the same way today in that part of the world. 
    • He dispels many myths and paints a rich, truthful picture of the world of the Bible and what its content means. Reading the Bible in light of his wisdom is like the difference between watching the Andy Griffith Show in color instead of black-and-white. You've always known who Opie was, but how could you have gone all that time and not know he had red hair?
  • The Ecclesiastical History of the Church of England by the Venerable Bede
    • The Venerable Bede was an 8th century monk in England writing about "recent events." He describes how the Mission of the Church arrived and expanded throughout England. I especially love the account of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne: such a wonderful example for believers of how to be an Evangelist & Leader.  It's filled with colorful accounts of saints, miracles, preaching, healings, kings, sabotage, betrayal and the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in England. As a Church-planter, I've often said "Everything you need to know about Anglican Church-planting can be found in the Gospels and Acts, the Book of Common Prayer and Bede's History."
    • For The Life Of The World by Alexander Schmemann
      • (The book, not the recent film series). Father Alexander Schmemann, memory eternal, was a Russian Orthodox priest, author and dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York. This book covers issues such as the secular vs. sacred, human-kind's vocation as royal priests, and the seamless relationship between the liturgical worship of Church within her sanctuary and her mission outside of it in the world. My entire theology of worship, liturgy and mission is informed by this book. 
    • The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren
      • Every Christian congregation exists to fulfill the Mission of Jesus through five purposes: Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry and Mission. If a congregation is 1) not balanced in all five and 2) does not order it's life with, and on, purpose it will die on the vine. While I'm obviously not a Baptist / "Seeker-Church" guy, the biblical leadership principles and structures Warren lays out are universal and excellent. If you're congregation is struggling with health and/or growth, read this.
      • Before I ever read this the principles in it are something Bishop William Godfrey, the Missionary Bishop of Peru, taught me. In 17 years he grew the Anglican Church of Peru from one congegration into four dioceses.  How? He balanced the purposes of the Church and he did it on purpose. Where did he find this? Not Rick Warren, but as he's said, "It's all right there in the Scriptures, the Canons and the Prayer Book." Bishop Godfrey is one of my greatest living heroes.
    • The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
      • I love all of Tolkien's work for the rich languages and cultures he creates as well as the themes of the most unlikely, weakest candidate being the one chosen to vanquish evil. I especially love the last few chapters of this book. After throwing the Ring into Mt. Doom, Frodo and Sam have a discussion about what it means to return home and how once you leave home you can never really return, because it's no longer the place it was when you left it. As someone who has lived in four different places and cultural settings in my adult life, this chapter has been a great comfort in different seasons. 
    • The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware
      • The best brief overview of the Christian Faith I've read (and I've pored over many as a pastor trying to find one great, brief volume). Deep yet accessible. He's writing from an Orthodox Christian perspective, obviously, but presents the universal truths of the Faith beautifully with a particular bent towards the development of one's interior life and prayer. His chapter on "God As Trinity" is the best explanation of the Trinity I've read.
    • The Rule of St. Benedict by Benedict of Nursia
      • Bishop Godfrey of Peru, whom I'm honored to call friend and grateful to call a mentor, says "Everything you need to know about pastoring can be found in The Rule." The first time he said this I wasn't sure I believed him. But once I spent some time actually pastoring I realized how right he is. I keep a copy in my choir stall in the Sanctuary now to read a chapter when I pray the Office. If you want to lead others like Jesus, study The Rule.
    • Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger
      • I'm fascinated by organizsations that have become legendary doing only one thing well.  Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans makes one thing:  beignets. Apple makes one phone, one desktop and (essentially) one laptop. In 'N' Out only makes burgers.
      • Simple Church talks about being focused, simple and clear about what your Mission is and then aligning everything you do around that. I think this is one of the most effective ways to lead an organization. 
      • Know and articulate the singular reason you exist, align everything you do with that and get rid of the rest, and then measure if you're actually doing it or not on a regular basis.
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