Five Books

I read a lot, some might say too much. Daily, I share something book related on Facebook. My email contains the word bookworm. I never go anywhere without a book and the clerks at my local Barnes and Noble know me. So, it only comes natural that I should offer reflections on my reading.

On this first reflection, I would like to share five books that have impacted me the most the last few weeks. Maybe one or more would tickle your fancy.

My Bible study group has been reading through Dangerous Wonder by Michael Yaconelli. Bursting with wonderful stories to remind its readers what childlike faith looks and feels like, and challenges the status quo. Yaconelli urges his readers to take risks, to wonder, to love passionately, to live fully, and to experience God’s indiscriminate grace. Dangerous Wonder is a must-read. To be honest I was not all that excited that this book was chosen for my group, but reading through it and contemplating the stories and the author’s points I am glad it was. This short book powerfully challenges easy assumptions about a life of faith and pushes one beyond their comfort zones.

Second up is Barbara R. Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. Arguing against the theology of Left Behind novels, Rossing advances an alternative vision of Revelation, that places Revelation in a tradition of apocalypse and prophecy that has less to do with violence or prediction than with the idea of Lamb power. For Rossing, the Revelation is “rapture in reverse”—God raptured into the world as God-with-us. She says, it’s a vision of a New Jerusalem, a beloved community–a vision of peace and justice that has inspired a host of good stories and still inspires persistent hope in the face of oppression and violence. After a powerful sermon series at my church on Revelation, I wanted to read more about this enigmatic final book of the bible and I found in Rossing’s book a new vision of the meaning and importance of this book.  

Thirdly, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church by John D. Caputo is a fascinating book. Caputo’s writing style was always engaging. A short but deep exploration of how postmodernism applies to and affects discipleship to Christ. Caputo weaves both the Christian classic In His Steps and the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida to speak about the cost of following Jesus in our current context and to get a handle on how Jesus might deconstruct the church—not demolishing it in a negative way but drawing out peace and righteousness and the kingdom of God. For Caputo deconstruction is a useful tool to get to the bare essentials of Christianity. He writes very much from his personal opinion and the many amusing asides are insightful and enjoyable. He talks incisively about many of the failings of the religious Right, although also has things to say about the weakness and ineptness of the Left.

Fourth up is N. T. Wright’s How God Became King. I have discovered Wright over the last few years and he has helped me to formulate many of my key ideas about Christianity and what it means to be a Christian. This is a companion book to Wrights equally must read Simply Jesus. This is a book about the gospels in general and the middle section, the sections between Jesus’ birth and death in particular. The main premise is about rediscovering the meaning and importance of what Jesus did between the nativity and the cross. Wright explains that “the story Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell is the story of how God became king – in and through Jesus. But the way the gospels have been read, especially through the lens of the great early creeds, has quite accidently pulled this tightly coherent story apart. This has come through into contemporary readings in which ‘kingdom’ and ‘cross’ have been played off against one another. The four gospels bring these two viewpoints together … the gospels tell of a Jesus who embodied the living God of Israel and whose cross and resurrection really did inaugurate the kingdom of that God.”

Fifth but not least is Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the allure and mystery of Christianity by Brian Zahnd. For thousands of years, artists, sages, philosophers, and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God. Now, we live in a day when convenience and practicality have largely displaced beauty as a value. The church is no exception—even salvation is commonly viewed in a scientific and mechanistic manner and presented as a plan, system, or formula.

In Beauty Will Save the World, Zahnd argues that this loss of beauty as a principal value has been disastrous for Western culture—and especially for the church. The full message of the beauty of the gospel has been replaced by our desires to satisfy our material needs, to empirically prove our faith, and to establish political power in our world—the exact same things that Christ was tempted with—and rejected—in the wilderness.

Zahnd shows that by following the teachings of the Beatitudes, the church can become a viable alternative to current-day political, commercial, and religious power and can actually achieve what these powers promise to provide but fail to deliver. Using stories from the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and from his own life, he teaches us to stay on the journey to discover the kingdom of God in a fuller, richer—more beautiful—way. I find Zahnd’s argument not only powerful and persuasive but crucial to making the gospel compelling and bringing Jesus to many who reject him because of his inept followers. By making Jesus and his message beautiful we can bring many to the table of Jesus.

These are the five books that have touched me recently. I am sure there is something here for anyone. You may not like all of them, but I am sure there is something here for all to sink into. Please feel free to suggest books that excite you.

Grace and Peace to all!

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