Here is a partial annual reading list – an annotated list of books read in 2014.
Once again, the author I strongly encourage you to be reading is Michael Reeves. His Delighting in the Trinity is having a profound impact on those who have the spiritual/biblical/theological capacity to grasp the central reality of the Trinity in all things. He just came out with another title: Christ Our Life. See my review of this book below. Though these titles may sound like theological heavies, these books are engaging and deeply encouraging. You will be enriched by Reeves. Buy lots of copies and give them away. Brilliant stuff, this (Reeves is a Brit).
Why read books? Books are one of the readily reachable fruits God has provided for our on-going transformation into the image of Christ. And why allow God to work such transformation in us? The more we are like Christ, the more we will grow in capacity to know the love of the Father, receive that love, grow in that love, and allow that love to overflow from us to the world around us. Of course, not all reads facilitate that, but the redeemed mind utilizing a solid biblical grid can find truth and beauty in most everything. So, read on.
As always, I am eager to hear from you about recommended reads from all genres. Thanks in advance.
Feel free to pass this onto whomever you think will find it helpful. Please do not publish any part of this without asking first. Thanks. And mind you, I did not pester my editor (that would be my wife) to proofread this – all typos are my bad. Enjoy!
Scott E. Shaum December 2014
Christ Our Life Michael Reeves
Reeves is at it again with his delightful writing style. He has a knack for taking profound, eternal truths and making them comprehendible. As I read his books it feels as if Truth is literally oozing into my deepest being (remember, Truth is a Person). Really wonderful. Jesus Christ is our life. He is not merely an aspect of our Christian faith. He is not a subject to be discussed, talked at, analyzed, debated, nor offered to others like candy at trick-or-treat time. He is our life. He is Life. Life is a Person. Reeves does a wonderful job of helping us grasp that central reality. THIS IS A MUST READ. (Note: at this time this book is only released in the UK. You can obtain it via Amazon for minimal shipping or direct from http://bookdepository.com in the UK, free shipping. The price comes out the same from either source. It will eventually be released in the US in print and, likely, kindle versions, though I do not know when).
Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals Edited by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel
On the subject of spiritual life we have access to so many authors with such varied theological backgrounds. Some of these are the ancient fathers of our faith like Augustine. Others are contemporary. How do we know what to readily absorb and what to screen out as we read from catholic, orthodox, and protestant authors? Noggin and Strobel’s book is a profoundly helpful resource to answer just that question. The book has contributions from numerous authors looking at different periods of church history. Each time period in the church’s history offers key contributions to our understanding of spiritual truth. And each age has its liabilities, as do the authors from those various ages and contexts. This book assists us in knowing what to be cautious of and what to readily receive. More than that, there are several chapters that provide a biblical grid so that we can develop our own discernment skills. I found this book to be of extreme help. I have provided a small summation from one chapter at the end of this reads list. I highly recommend this as a resource to aid in discernment as you read widely in the field of spirituality. (By the way Keith Strobel has a number of intriguing titles out that I want to look into. If you have personally read any, I’d be much obliged to hear your thoughts.)
Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength J. I. Packer
This is one of those towards-the-end-of-life reflections from a man who has taught the word and theology for decades. When someone of Packer’s caliber writes, one wants to pay attention. Packer picks up Paul’s theme in 2 Corinthians of Christ through our weakness. This is a wonderful, small, reflective book.
Sabbath as Resistance Walter Brueggemann
Bruegemann is a theologian that is a prolific writer. This work looks as Sabbath as a resistance to the world’s lies, particularly our consumeristic culture that has permeated every facet of life (including each of our personal faith journeys – whether we realize it or not, this is simply a reality of faith lived out in North American context). This book will aid in grasping a deeper outlook on the practice of Sabbath. The Sabbath is so much more than merely than a day we go to church and don’t work. Oh, there is so much more.
The Sabbath Abraham Heschel
Heschel is a non-Christ following Jew. Thus, this book is written from a Jewish perspective. Some of his insights into the OT are profound as he brings his Jewish heritage to bear on the subject. At the same time there is a clear void as Christ is missing from his discussion. No Christ, no life – and no complete grasp of truth. Yet, there are some keen insight in this book. I’d only recommend this book to those who are looking to grasp a more well rounded insight into the topic of Sabbath.
(Another Sabbath resource: Lynn Baab’s Keeping Sabbath is one of the most applicable, easy to read, user friendly book on the subject. Lots of helps and practical ideas for practicing sabbath, even with a young family).
Visions of Vocation Steven Garber
This is the first of Garber’s books I have read. He is clearly a well connected person as he mentions famous person after famous person he has personally engaged. Some of his questions are very profound and worthy of lengthy pondering. The central question he engages in this work is “when we know the world (i.e. how hard and brutal and unforgiving a place it can be), how do we still love it?” This question is repeated throughout the book. Our vocation (more than merely our job) is how we love the world as we display God in our relationships and efforts. I found the book wordy and repetitive. I think it a worthy read, but not on the top of my list.
Invitations from God: Accepting God’s Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
Calhoun approaches painful circumstances of life as invitations. What is God’s invitation to me when I lose my job? Receive a scary diagnosis? Lose a loved one? Her style is highly reflective and in some places very penetrating. Her questions to leaders on being a follower caused me some long pauses. This is well written book. I highly recommend it, for all of us have and will face painful life experiences. How we steward these painful life experiences is a key element of a mature human being living in an oft painful world. Remember, the key question to ponder is not “why” but rather “how” – as in, “Father, how do you want me to steward this painful experience and how can I walk well with you in it?” Those “how” questions will lead to Life. Calhoun’s book engages our hearts and minds in this wise direction. I strongly encourage you to read this in the coming year.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp
This is a family book, written and beautifully illustrated for all ages. Each day there are roughly three pages to read from this large formatted, colorful book with beautiful artwork. At the end there are a few reflective questions and some exercises the family could do together. I am enjoying it. Voskamp is the author of the best selling One Thousand Gifts and a very poetic writer. This is a great book to read with children, young ones and old ones alike.
The Advantage Patrick Lencioni
I have long been a Lencioni fan. He is unpretentious and his counsel is highly people- focused. This title is a culmination of his numerous other works. I found it extremely helpful in reviewing my own organization’s culture and organizational health. If you have an influential role in your organization or team and can stomach a long, reflective look at whatever ill health (i.e. organizational dysfunction) exists – for every entity has some level of ill-health – this is an extremely practical resource. I highly recommend this book.
Pope Francis Chris Lowney
I have read several of Lowney’s books. He is a former Jesuit novate that was in the Ignatian preparation system for 7 years (normally last 10 years) before he realized it was not for him. He then entered the world of finance where he was a managing director for JP Morgan in many of their international offices. His earlier book entitled Heroic Leadership was a great read (I do not recommend his title Heroic Living). In this current title he describes what makes Pope Francis tick. Again and again, the current Pope has rocked the catholic world with strong callings to personal humility and keen service to the poor. He has no tolerance for those in the church who seek to move up the ecclesiastical ladder and use their position for personal gain. The Pope seems to be on a mission to undo much of the bureaucracy that is found in the catholic church and call all those in its clergy ranks from the cardinals to bishops to priest to go out into the streets, “get their feet dirty” and serve the poor of this world. Lowney outlines the central tenets of Ignatian spirituality and how they can provide a framework for the modern leader to live and make decisions from a solid, value-driven reference. These values are what causes Pope Francis to avoid the plush papal apartment for a smaller flat, ride in compact cars rather than limos, and wash the feet of juvenile delinquents. This service-oriented quality is desperately needed in this day as leaders are seen as people who use their position for personal gain at the cost of those “under” them. Its my opinion that Heroic Leadership is Lowney’s best work to date. I’d read that book first. IF you want more than you can read this current title.
The Trust Edge David Horsager
Horsager has written this in a format for business use while clearly using biblical principles as a Christ follower. The book is a bit rudimentary but, that being said, much of what Horsager writes is not practiced in the Christian organizations I service. Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose. Most global workers I work with simply do not trust their leadership. I am amazed at how “nice” we are to each other yet have no inherent trust. This is worth referencing, especially if you have influence in your workplace or church. How can you help build a culture of grace and trust?
Forming the Leader’s Soul: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction Morris Dirks
Dirks is one who clearly has experienced the ill effects of the unhealthy pressures the evangelical sub-culture places on leaders. Please note that truth alone. I repeat it: The Evangelical world places profound unhealthy pressures on its personnel – both church and para-church organizations. In the first couple of chapters Dirks does a masterful job of describing these unhealthy pressures at both a macro/systemic level and at a personal/self-inflicted level. That diagnosis is worth the book alone. My only disappointment with the book is the chapter I was most intrigued to read which was addressing biblical support of the practice of spiritual direction. He seems to confuse terms in an effort to make certain passages connect. I think one can provide strong biblical argument for the role of having spiritual guides in one’s life without forcing the terminology. The second half of the book is a summation of Ignatian spirituality and the role a spiritual director plays within this framework. Again, he does a great job in this summation. I for one am a trained spiritual director, provide this service for others, and have a spiritual director with whom I seek to meet with monthly. The role of a spiritual director, when practiced from a Christocentric and biblical orientation, is an invaluable source of counsel and clarity. In a field that is primarily authored by catholic brothers and sisters, here is a resource by a fellow protestant that is worthy of your time. And if you are a leader, please seek out consistent counsel whether a spiritual director or other source – someone older, wiser and outside your context. The complexities of leading in ministry is profound and cannot be navigated alone. We need multiple advisors.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Butterfield was a professor and outspoken, practicing lesbian. She was often profoundly offended by Christians and the way they treated the LGBT community. Then she came to Christ and her whole life exploded. This is a telling book. Why is the church so judgmental??? We are to love people, not tell them why they are wrong. Butterfield story of her conversion is fascinating. She provides a rare glimpse into the LGBT world. However, I found that as the book went on she was as opinionated about her Christian denominational/doctrinal views as she originally was about her LBGT views. Still, with this topic becoming the central topic in the Evangelical world, we need to get ourselves up to speed (at least I do). One public speaker I recently heard said it is only a matter of time before there is a gay, evangelical missions sending agency. That makes sense as there are churches of that flavor currently. Jesus mingled with tax-collectors and prostitutes. Who would he have us mingle with? Butterfield helps us see that those in the LGBT community are people just like us, to be loved just as God has loved us.
Appendix: Reading Spiritual Classics and Contemporary Authors in the Spiritual Formation Genre with an Evangelical Framework (i.e. Trinitarian, Christocentric, Biblical framework).
A 5 Point Grid to read spiritual books through:
Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, only judge of controversy.
Hold to the doctrine of sinfulness and corruption of the human heart. In other words, our corruption from sin is complete, we cannot purify ourselves. We are in absolute need of a Savior. Some items to watch for is “purgation” theology that expresses we can become purified or more like Christ through self-affliction or self-discipline. We cannot redeem ourselves.
Hold to the work and office of Jesus Christ for salvation. Not Jesus + my efforts, my practices, my right thinking and/or acting. Jesus’ work on the cross alone saves us.
We are totally dependent on the inward work of the Holy Spirit for redemption and transformation. Again, its not the Spirit helping me as I work real hard at life. I am utterly dependent.
We are totally dependent on the outward work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish any deeds of righteousness (i.e. ministry acts of any kind).
These five points are not to only be taught, but emphasized; they are to be the first truths to arrest our attentions. They are to be the main focus.
“The Gospel is very easily spoiled – add or remove a single element and it is spoiled.” R. C. Ryle
Christ cannot be set aside from the main line of vision and something else put in his place (i.e. prayer, actions, the end times, whatever). The substitute is usually something good, even biblical. This is called “interposition.” Christ is to be our main focus.
Also be cautious of “disproportion.” This is attaching an exaggerated importance to a secondary element of Christianity. For example, Evangelicals often tend to emphasis eschatology (end times or the return of Christ) and physical healing out of proportion to Scriptural proportions. Keep the central truths central.
Be cautious of confused and contradictory directions – there is much confusion about the role of sacraments (i.e. sacraments do not purify us, the work of Christ on the cross does) and even faith (i.e. do not place faith in your faith rather faith is to be placed in a Person – God), etc. I hear people say, “There is power in prayer”. What is meant by that? Does it mean if I pray the right things, the right way and forcefully enough then something happens? Is prayer a magic incantation? Do my prayers have power or does God have power? Can we manipulate God with our prayers? We are children who come to a caring Father and lay our needs and desires before him. He is wise and kind and will do for us what he knows is best. We ask, he responds as he sees best.
Generally speaking, Orthodoxy (the Eastern church) and Roman Catholicism do not give the five above elements prominence. They will teach on these topics, but often poorly and often pointing to other practices or traditions in their place. This is a major difference from Evangelical, Protestant Christian doctrine. And it is not semantics nor a minor issue. It is important to be precise in our terminology. Preciseness is not legalism, it is wisdom and truth and it protects and guides. Mind you, this does not mean those in the Orthodox or Catholic church do not walk with God. See point 3 at the top of this page. Jesus saves, not having every theological iota accurate.
As you read books from authors of various backgrounds, you can use the above 5 point grid as a guide. Many books have wonderful truths to offer. However, they can also become disproportionate in a particular practice or bring a specific action into the primary view point distracting from our central focus in Jesus and his work for us.
Read widely and read with charity and generosity. If anyone of us is aware of truth, that is a grace, not of our own acquisition. There is no room for spiritual pride, superiority, or ungraciousness.