Book Reviews

I love to read and to share great books with my friends! This is the list of what I've been reading lately and who I'd recommend it for. Enjoy!!

Kingdom Expressions
J.D. Payne

I picked this book up because I came across it as a reference list for different expressions of church. It's Amazon description shares, "In Kingdom Expressions, an expert takes a look at some of the most significant, gospel-advancing movements and trends to take place in the latter twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the United States" As someone working to play around with expressions of church, I was curious to see if there was anything else out there that was near the same space as what we're working to create.

I found the book true to it's reference; it is essentially a list of a little more than a dozen different types of church that are currently active in the US. Payne covers each with a short history and a few observations of their unique elements. He explores the church growth movement, the house church movement, the emergent church, the missional church, and others. I found it informative, if not particularly exciting. But I suppose reference books rarely are exciting. I did find it interesting that I didn't seem to find anything that seemed especially close to what we are working to create. Perhaps that a sign we're attempting something impossible! Who knows, I guess time will tell.

Why Nations Fail
Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson

I picked this book up because I wanted to learn more about the dynamics of flourishing in open systems. As we're working to architect an open system for our local church, I've found myself thinking quite a bit about how open systems work and what causes them to flourish. Nations (at least ones with free markets) organize as open systems and I was curious to see what was to be learned here.

The scope of this work is quite impressive. The authors are working to create a more-or-less universal theory of poverty on a national scale. What causes it and why do some nations flourish and others decline? Acemoglu and Robinson argue that the critical factor is whether a nation has inclusive or extractive economic institutions. Inclusive economic institutions spread wealth around and encourage the kind of long-term thinking that drives investment, innovation, and expansion. Extractive institutions concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, resulting in gain in the short term for a few, and net loss for all over time.

Acemoglu and Robinson continue to argue that for these inclusive economic institutions to remain inclusive over time, they need to be matched with inclusive, not extractive political institutions. Where political institutions allow for the power of a few to become too deterministic, those in power will bend the economic institutions for their benefit. To that end, the two have to exist together: inclusive economic institutions that spread wealth around, and inclusive political institutions that spread power around. Where those both align, a nation is on a good long-term course.

I found the analysis in Why Nations Fail interesting and I think there are many elements of validity to it. It strikes me as a little overly simple - the book comes across as if this is almost the only factors that matter in determining the long-term trajectory of a nation, and I have to believe it's just not that simple. That being said, they survey a vast number of historical examples and make a compelling case. It's certainly made me reflect quite a bit on economic and political dynamics and what they create over time.

Remaking the World
Andrew Wilson

I don't exactly recall how I came across this book, but I picked it up because I thought the subtitle was really fascinating: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West. I've been reflecting on culture lately and I thought this would be a read worth engaging with.

I found Remaking the World to be an interesting blend of cultural analysis, history, and (lightly) Christian response to all of it. Wilson opens by arguing that western culture has become WEIRDER: (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic, Ex-Christian, Romantic), and that the foundations of WEIRDER culture were laid in the late 18th century. Astonishingly, many of the representative events of that shift happened in one year: 1776. Most of the rest of the book then highlights key events in each of the WEIRDER sectors and unpacks them.

As an American, I found myself suspicious of how US-centric the book may be. 1776 is a year we look at as important! And indeed many of the events from US history that happened in 1776 were explored, but I was really pleased to see there was at least as much discussion of events throughout Europe than there was in the US. Through the bulk of the book, Wilson unpacks the events that have made western culture WEIRDER by threading through explorers, inventors, politicians, philosophers, historical events, and more and gives a snapshot of a culture in flux in 1776, and how the threads in process then have continued through to this day. I found it interesting and thought provoking!

The last section of the book is Wilson's response to our current WEIRDER culture. Honestly, I found this part a little weak compared with the rest of the book. His response was largely tantamount to an argument that all of this makes the Christian message even more central; and that grace is the answer WEIRDER culture is looking for. In a sense I agree (grace is critical and is the answer), but I thought there was a bridge he didn't cross there: how can we speak into that culture effectively? Many believers are finding it harder and harder to connect the message of grace meaningfully with the current culture, and I'm not sure I got any sense as to how to do that more effectively. I would have liked a helpful framing thought or two, but that's about all I felt was missing from this interesting book.

Know the Real Jesus
Alexander Venter

I pIcked up a copy of Know the Real Jesus because I’ve read most of Alexander Venter’s work and because I’ve found historical Jesus research interesting and at times enriching to engage with. Anything that helps us get a clearer picture of Jesus is something I’m interested in!

Historical Jesus research is a broad scholarly stream and I was curious to see if this book would serve as a helpful introduction to some of it’s insights. I knew Alexander would be sticking to the vein of the tradition that reinforced, rather than undermined the historically held picture of Jesus (a hunch that proved accurate), and so I was curious to see if this would be a helpful book to give to people who wanted an introduction to this body of scholarship. My takeaway is that it is.

At the beginning, Venter offers a few thoughts and insights about the research stream and the value of historical Jesus research, and then the main body of Know the Real Jesus traces the arc of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection as it is outlined in the gospel accounts, whlie Venter adds insights and perspectives from the scholarship along the way. Having engaged this content a fair bit I wasn’t stunned by much, but that probably means it is a good introductory resource.

What I really love about this book is not just that it does the scholarship justice (which in my opinion I think it does), but that what comes through the book even more than that is Venter’s love for Jesus. You can tell this isn’t an academic exercise for him; this is a way of knowing the Jesus he follows more deeply and personally. His call to us is more prophetic than it is academic: these are tools we can use to know Jesus better and walk with him more closely. As a pastor, this is the heart I could only wish a book like this would have! I’m deeply grateful for Venter’s contribution to the body of Christ in this book.

On the Road with the Holy Spirit
Ken Fish

I picked up a copy of this book as Ken is a friend and ministry mentor of mine and I was curious to see what his first published book would be like! I was blown away; it was a fantastic and inspiring book that deeply encouraged me as I was preparing to head to Australia for my ministry trip there this fall (much of the book shares events that took place in Australia).

The structure of the book is simple; Ken shares a few pages of one of his pillars of revival (presence, prayer, purity, etc) and then after that there are a number of pages of Ken’s ”ministry diary” - recounting and reflections on his ministry engagements and what the Spirit was up to in that process. What makes the book so compelling is how inspiring it is. What Ken articulates are things that I’ve seen in measure but Ken inspires me to go after at another level. Dramatic healings, incredible miracles, people undeniably set free. My heart was stirred again to pursue the Holy Spirit and I was again reminded all that is available to those who pursue the Kingdom of God above all else. A fantastic read!

Never Trust a Leader Without a Limp
Glenn Schroder

I heard about this book from a Vineyard pastor recently, and I thought it sounded like it would be worth the read. Glenn was a pastor with John Wimber at the Anaheim Vineyard for a number of years before planting a church in Portland. Never Trust a Leader Without a Limp is Schroder's recollection of the wisdom he gleaned from working with Wimber during their time together.

The book is framed by a bunch of "Wimberisms" - the pithy sayings he would often use to convey ideas he felt were important to pass on. The book contains over 35, from the oft-repeated "Everybody Gets to Play" or "The Meat is in the Street" to ones I haven't heard before, or haven't heard much like "Borrow from Tomorrow", or "The View from the Valley Ain't That Bad". Each chapter includes Schroder's encountering this saying of Wimber's and sharing how it impacted him. It's a mashup of classic Vineyard teachings and some interesting points of history coming from someone who has put it into practice over his lifetime of ministry. It's an easy read, and an encouraging one.

Give and Take
Adam Grant

I came across this book as a reference in another good I read (I honestly don't remember which one). Intrigued by the subtitle - Why helping others drives our success - I picked it up and gave it a read. In Give and Take, Grant suggests there are three types of approaches as it comes to relationships:

  1. Takers, who are working to get as much for themselves out of any given interaction
  2. Matchers, who work to keep an "even balance" in the relationship where each person receives equal benefit
  3. Givers, who are working to give as much as possible to others in any given interaction

Grant works through defining each type and explores aspects of each type: the way they build relational networks, how they influence others, how they spot people's potential, and so on. Along the way, Grant illustrates with examples of each type and cites research that indicates that givers win out more than matchers or takers in many aspects of life - as long as they are givers who can be realistic and not forget about themselves too much in the process.

I found this book encouraging and rewarding to read. If nothing else, I found myself edified to read a secular and academic book contemplating how we can take an approach that Jesus endorses: one in which we give without trying to get for ourselves and through that our lives are blessed.

I came across this book as a reference in another good I read (I honestly don't remember which one). Intrigued by the subtitle - Why helping others drives our success - I picked it up and gave it a read. In Give and Take, Grant suggests there are three types of approaches as it comes to relationships:

What Saint Paul Really Said
NT Wright

I picked up this book because I've been feeling for a while that I need to catch up on the New Perspective on Paul and it's findings. It seems like theological due diligence to be aware of what's happening there, and in general I really enjoy NT Wright's books.

Honestly, I found this book less than thrilling. It's well written: Wright does a good job of walking us through the work to understand Paul's historical backdrop and work to get inside him as a person as well as we're able to 20 centuries later. He then works his way through the new perspective of gospel that Paul preached (the message that Jesus is Lord, rather than the message of justification by faith). After that, Wright takes us through revising our understanding of what Paul meant by words like "justification" and "righteousness" and frames these important doctrines in the kingdom story (which is too complicated to summarize succinctly here). Through and through, it's well written and clear, as Wright usually is.

What was lacking with the book for me was something that I found myself excited about. Paul's message is recast as something more Jesus-centric (this part is exciting), but the unique Pauline contributions (a focus on justification and righteousness) wind up feeling effectively a little empty to me. They become statements about who is welcome in the family of faith (everyone, not just the Jews) and a nuanced clarification that it is God who saves us, not our faith itself. I agree with those two points, but it's hard for me to feel enthused about them. Maybe that's just me, but it didn't do a lot for me. That being said, that has less to do with Wright and more to do with the content of the scholarship itself, which Wright is just summarizing for us here.

If you are looking for a more compelling book to understand the latest thinking on Paul, I found Wrights, Paul: A Biography to be fantastic.

Adam Grant

I picked up this book because I have a lot of respect for the author as a public intellectual, and because the subtitle caught me: "How non-conformists move the world". Maybe this is me being a bit aspirational, but I resonate with the non-conformist part, and desire to do the change the world part.

Originals reminds me a fair bit of Malcolm Gladwell's books in that it blends together an interesting combination of academic research with anecdotal illustrations and case studies while exploring an overall theme. I found a lot of what Grant said to be interesting, though I'm not sure I felt anything in particular felt revolutionary to me. He discusses a cluster of topics that are relevant to being original: how to generate/recognize original ideas, voicing & championing original ideas, managing emotions in the uncertainty of the new, building cultures of originality, and even how to parent in such a way that your kids are encouraged to think originally. There were lots of helpful contrarian stances along the way: principles like question the default, procrastinate strategically, balance the risk portfolio, ask for problems–not solutions, hire not on cultural fit but on cultural contribution, emphasize values over rules, and so forth.

On the whole I enjoyed it, but I did feel the chapters were too long. I like to read a chapter in one sitting and I found myself somewhat annoyed it was hard to do that with this book. Also, maybe it's because I lean towards the contrarian, but I found this book mostly saying things that felt a bit self-evident. Of course we should question the default, how else will we make progress? Isn't that obvious? Maybe that's just me though, I'm not sure. In any case, Originals presents a helpful set of ideas to chew over, and a resounding affirmation for the nonconformists that are trying to change the world. (Cue Apple's infamous "Here's to the Crazy Ones" commercial)

Every Bush Afire
Kyle Peters

I first came across this book as Kyle asked me questions about writing and publishing during the process of creating the book. When he eventually gave me a complete copy, I loved reading it! Every Bush Afire is a beautiful and powerful book in that it is an authentic and unblemished record of the full story of the adventure with God. Kyle takes us to the highest mountain peaks, sharing with us stories that will bring tears to your eyes as we see the heart and the power of God made concrete in his beautiful works. With just as much clarity, Kyle will march us into the valleys, moments of intense grief, pain, or loss, in which God proves himself one that sticks closer than a brother and the source of wholeness where the brokenness of life has left it’s fingerprints on our story. Not content to leave it there, Kyle will continue to press us forwards, taking us along as he navigates the all-too-normal circumstances of a life lived with the tensions and highlights of treasured relationships, job frustrations, and an uncertain future–all journeyed with the constant companionship of the Spirit of God.

What does a life lived with God look like? These pages carry a picture of the real thing. This is the texture you can expect. The details will be different in your adventure: the circumstances unique to you, but the essence of it–what it feels like to take that adventure–that is captured beautifully here. May this book inspire you to press forward into your own God-led-adventure, may it authenticate the road the Lord has you on. May you, like Kyle has, discover that with our God, every bush is afire with his glorious presence.

Beyond Order
Jordan B. Peterson

I picked up this book as a part of my continued push to familiarize myself with the man the New York Times has called "The most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now". I recently read and reviewed is famous 12 Rules for Life, and Beyond Order is his follow-up book with 12 more rules for us.

This book is also strongly written in which I suppose could be called the "Jordan B. Peterson style"–it is full of an interesting blend of anecdotal counseling practice stories, careful philosophical analysis, and rich references to famous works of literature (the Bible included, but far from exclusive to just the Bible). In that unique voice, Peterson brings us through rules that have to do with personal growth and change (Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that, Do not hide unwanted things in the fog, Do not do what you hate), how to relate to society (Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement, Abandon ideology), as well as home and relational life (Try and make one room in your home as beautiful as possible, Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship). As I suspect is the case in all of his writings, what Peterson has to say is often brilliant and frequently quite practical and accessible. He has mastered the "take dense philosophy, and make it as accessible as a therapist should" task, and he brings it to this book as well as the last.

One thing that I noticed which was interesting with this book compared with his last: because I had already read one of his books, I found myself less struck by his approach and style as I was in 12 Rules for Life. It's still executed as brilliantly, it just doesn't feel as new-and-different anymore. It made me realize how much of the experience of both of these books is just being exposed to who Peterson is and how his mind works. It's clear that he's a polymath, and a fair bit of what I find so interesting about him is how well he can span such a wide set of fields of study and link them together as if they are obviously connected and no one has bothered to see it until now.

Living the Re:FORM Adventure
Tri Robinson

I came across this book a few months ago when a ministry associate brought this book up in a conversation about the future of the church and what a church native to the Millennial generation would look like. Intrigued, I picked up a copy and was excited to hear from this ministry veteran about what he sees coming up next. On the whole, I enjoyed the book, but I would be hard pressed to say that it felt revolutionary to me. Robinson writes this book in three parts: the first is largely a biography of his experiences in the Jesus People movement and what the last major revival looked like. Next he unpacks how church as it presently operates is in a dissolution process. Last, he offers his reflections on what a church that appealed to Millennials more deeply may look like.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed–actually some of my favorite elements were the biographical components which offered an "insider window" into the Jesus People movement. When it came to the second and third parts, I found myself less engaged. The section about Church unraveling probably stood out as a prophetic call before the last three years, but in the post-COVID reality, it didn't come across like a prophetic summons to change so much as making a case for what is obviously true. This speaks to Robinson's credit: his prophetic call was accurate! Unfortunately, that accuracy makes the book come across a little dated now.

The sections about the future shape of the Church were less than gripping for me as well. I was really glad that Robinson comes across clearly as a boomer that believes in the next generations (a refreshing change from what feels more like a consistent critique) What it was lacking, in my opinion, was that Robinson doesn't seem to suggest anything of deep change. The solution offered is a kind of "rewrapping" the Church with a more Millennial-friendly set of values (a higher dose of social justice and environmental work), rather than the deeper & more fundamental overhaul that I believe is needed (see for example my recent article, From Organization to Ecosystem). I think Robinson is headed the right direction, I'm not sure he's imagining a change fundamental enough to capture the hearts of the next generation. I suppose time will tell as we watch whatever God is doing next!

All Things New
Pete Hughes

I read this book because I was interested to learn more about the author, Pete Hughes, as he was also one of the speakers at the Cause to Live For conference I recently spoke at in the UK. I'd heard good things about Pete and I was curious to hear more of his story and his teaching. Pete and his wife Bee lead Kings Cross Church in London where they have managed to build a thriving community with many young adults in one of the most secular environments in the west. Anyone who can manage that is worth listening to!

All Things New is largely Pete's exposition of the story of the Bible. It is non-theological-in-tone version of a systematic theology text from Pete's point of view. It's clear Pete is passionate about the Bible and the Kingdom of God, and he does a wonderful job articulating the story of the kingdom of God and tracing it through the Biblical story. I particularly liked his Creation-Decreation-Recreation arc, which Pete articulates is the pattern of the biblical story and shapes the pattern of our salvation and discipleship as well. He's nailed a good organizing principle with catchy language in that.

What I really like most about this book is the slot it fills for me as a book that I can hand someone who is interested in learning more about Kingdom Theology and what its content contains. This is a great book for an interested reader asking exactly that question: which is a question I find being asked rather frequently. For a while I've been on the search for a good book to hand that person, and this book seems about perfect for that.

The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology
Adrio König

I read this book as part of the same theological mentoring program that I've read a bunch of other dense theological works with recently (The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, People of the Spirit, Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul, among others). I really enjoyed this book quite a bit. It reads much less scholarly than the others listed there, and it addresses one of the major questions I'd been wrestling with for the last couple of years: why is it that we refer to Kingdom Theology as Inaugurated Eschatology? Where does the eschatology part come from? This book unpacks that powerfully.

König's main thesis in this book is that everything Jesus does is eschatological. That because Jesus is the End (Rev 22:13), then everything that Jesus does is by definition eschatology. The title of the book is powerful picture of his premise: Christ's work is eclipsed by eschatology–there is a complete overlap and identification. Once this premise is established, König continues to organize a systematic theology around this eschatological premise. He explores three main thrusts of God's activity–Christ Realizes the Goal For Us, Christ Realizes the Goal In Us, Christ Realizes the Goal With Us–and frames all the rest of theology around this basis.

I found this book incredibly interesting. I find myself chewing on the idea that Jesus is the End and that continuing to adjust the way I'm reading the Bible. One of my favorite books I've read so far in said program. It's certainly the best work I've read at addressing the eschatological connection in Kingdom Theology.

What If? 2
Randall Munroe

I found out about this book when I sent a friend of mine my recent Imaginary Number Day article. She (a math major in college) replied that it made her day and let me know that this book recently came out. I've been familiar with Monroe since my grad school days, and he creates a popular webcomic called xkcd, which has a strong following by the extreme-math-or-science-nerd niche. (Monroe left a job at NASA to write XKCD full-time).

What If? 2 is the second book along the same lines as the subtitle promises: "Additional serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions". That is precisely what this book is, a series of precise calculations and answers to ridiculous questions. As an example, here are a few questions I specifically enjoyed:

  • What would happen if the Solar System was filled to soup out to Jupiter?
  • If a T. Rex were released in New York City, how many humans a day would it need to consume its needed calorie intake?
  • Can all the world's bananas fit inside all the world's churches? (Okay, for this one I'll give you the answer–yes)
  • How many people would it take to build Rome in a day?

All of these, and more than 60 other questions are carefully explored and explained, often resulting in either ridiculous situations or apocalyptic disaster. Either way, Monroe's writing is always clever and the questions are fun to ponder. For someone who is an ENFP/Type-7 former scientist, this book is perfect zaniness for me.

I found out about this book when I sent a friend of mine my recent Imaginary Number Day article. She (a math major in college) replied that it made her day and let me know that this book recently came out. I've been familiar with Monroe since my grad school days, and he creates a popular webcomic called xkcd, which has a strong following by the extreme-math-or-science-nerd niche. (Monroe left a job at NASA to write XKCD full-time).

What If? 2 is the second book along the same lines as the subtitle promises: "Additional serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions". That is precisely what this book is, a series of precise calculations and answers to ridiculous questions. As an example, here are a few questions I specifically enjoyed:

12 Rules for Life
Jordan B. Peterson

I picked this book up because I've been working to catch up with Jordan B. Peterson and his role as a public intellectual in our society. A friend of mine connected me to his The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories series and I decided to read his books as well. This is the first one I tackled and on the whole I found it really enjoyable.

Now, I think it's important to be clear about something up front–and this is something he is clear about as well. Peterson is not writing as a Christian voice in this book, he is writing as a public intellectual and drawing from biblical stories as he does so. That being said, Peterson also mixes in quite a bit of evolutionary theory and references other religious traditions as well. As long as you're willing to accept where he comes from: a public intellectual who is drawing off of Biblical stories for their psychological significance and value, I think you'll find this a good read.

Peterson is a careful and very well-read reader. He will frequently quote a range of philosophical thinkers, from Nietzsche to Solzhenitsyn to Freud and beyond. He not only references them, it's clear he's understood them at a deep level. He draws off of deep and profound thinkers and refracts his findings back against wisdom traditions, most frequently the biblical texts, and synthesizes principles for living. Peterson's bias is always towards responsibility and action, and I appreciate that about him and his writing. His call is to sacrifice, to "shoulder the burden of Being" as he calls it and I think that is an important call for our society today. I can see why he's popular.

As a bonus, I really enjoyed how casually he refers to dreams or visions from time to time in this book. Perhaps that feels less out-of-bounds as his academic field is psychology, but I was surprised by that. This dude is totally a prophet and I don't know if he even knows it at all.

Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul
Youngmo Cho

I picked up this book as the result of a conversation with a theology mentor in which I was asking about helpful books about the intersection between the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit. I believe these two subjects are closely linked, but the precise relationship between the two has often come across a bit fuzzy as I interact with what the precise nature of the relationship between the two is. This book is working to explore exactly that.

I think it's quite likely that this book was a thesis in published form. It reads extremely academically, which was what I disliked about it. That being said, I did find the content really interesting.

In this text, Cho analyzes a number of facets of God's activity as described in Paul's writings and in Luke-Acts and comes to the conclusion that Paul's pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) is indeed different from Luke's. Cho argues that Paul has taken the innovative step to ascribe what Luke terms the blessings of the kingdom–a sonship relationship with God, ethics, righteousness, wisdom, and more–as activity of the Spirit. Cho proposes that Luke understands the Spirit as the empowering force of proclamation of the kingdom, and then the kingdom results in these blessings in our lives, whereas Paul takes the activity of the Spirit a step further and sees the Spirit both as the empowering force of proclamation, along with the conduit through which the blessings of the kingdom come into our lives. It is precisely this distinction that results in some of the different positions on the Spirit all being able to argue "their case" from Scripture.

I found Cho's conclusion fascinating, and he does a good job arguing it. That being said, that last paragraph delivers most of the value of the book, and everything else is the argument to get there. I guess that's what I should expect from a published thesis! And that's what you should look for as well if you pick up this book.

Dream Teams
Shane Snow

I'm not quite sure how exactly I came across this book, other than I am generally wanting to learn about team building since our Phoenix adventure has made that more relevant than it's been in a while. I stumbled across it and the reviews sounded interesting–seemed like it could be one of those God-ordained books that he brings across my path. (I think it probably was, but time will tell on that).

In Dream Teams, Snow blends together clever story telling, recent neuroscience, and lots of discussion around facets of great teams. He is a clever and funny author, and the neuroscience he covers really is fascinating. I suspect his visual of the mountain range of potential solutions is probably something I'll carry with me from here forward, as is the model of creatively-productive tensions that he outlines. I thought his observation that great teams play-their-way-into-camaraderie to be quite an interesting idea as well. There were lots of parts I liked a lot; the only downside to the book was that Snow is clearly highly pro-liberal-agenda, and at times that comes across as almost preachy. If you can push that aside, the book has some really quality content.

Running on Empty
Jonice Webb

I came across this book as a result of a recent conversation with my Dad in which he shared how illuminating he was finding it as it came to making sense of some of his upbringing. As a continual student of many things, emotional and relational health being one of them, I thought it would be worth the read for sure.

In this book, Webb zeros in on an aspect of her clinical practice that she says she often encounters but is not a central part of most counseling conversations: Emotional Neglect. Webb defines emotional neglect as what your parents didn't give you; not the mistakes they made by doing the wrong things, but the absences they left and the resulting holes in our emotional being and identity. She spends the first half of the book helping the reader examine their own life–first giving twelve different parenting scenarios that can wind up with emotional neglect, then ten symptoms that people with emotional neglect often carry. The second half of the book is given to healing and recovery, and I found it quite good. The chapter she has in which she paints a picture of self-care and how it works may be the best I've read on that particular subject.

The book reads easily due both to Webb's writing style, as well as the vignettes she has intentionally sprinkled throughout to make it accessible. She's got great insights here and it's a great book that will help any reader engage with whatever degree of your own emotional neglect you have experienced and what moving past it looks like.

People of the Spirit
Graham Twelftree

I read this as part of the theological mentoring program I'm participating in over the last couple of years. This is one of the books we're reading about the nature of the Church, and in particular Twelftree explores the what Luke articulates in his Luke-Acts writings.

In this book, Twelftree wrestles with a number of the classic church questions: what is the nature of the church? What is the nature of the relationship between the church and salvation? How does the Spirit and things like the gift of tongues fit in? What did worship look like? How did the early church understand Scripture? What was their mission as they understood it? Throughout, Twelftree carefully and methodically examines what Luke was trying to say and how it lines up with what the church presently believes.

On the whole I found the tone of the book just a bit dry for me (reads like a scholastic book even a bit more than I'm used to), but I did find some of his conclusions quite interesting. The way he articulated the early church's understanding of Scripture (less prescriptive and more used in making sense of their ongoing experience of Jesus in their midst and the leading of the Spirit) was rather daring conclusion, as was his conclusion on mission (that the church needs to stop preaching the gospel to itself and bringing social action to the world and work to preach the gospel to the world and bring social action to the church). I'm glad for his summary chapter at the end which I suspect I'll continue to chew on for a while.

John Wimber's Teaching on Church Planting
Derek Morphew

As someone looking to church plant in the near future, this book seemed an obvious choice to engage. At 104 pages it is a quick read and reads with Wimber's voice coming through strongly. I wonder if may even have been a transcription of a church planting seminar; in it Wimber comes in-and-out of colloqual anecdotes and casual sayings that read like he was talking in person.

Wimber was on the leading edge of training church planters in his day and there is a lot of good content in this book, but it doesn't dive very deeply and it has the marks of being a content generated 40 years ago. I found it helpful and I will occasionally refer back to it as a reference I'm sure.

The Innovators
Walter Issacson

Having recently read and really enjoyed Issacson's The Code Breaker, I decided to try another one of his books out. I find biographies of fields of study or industries to be fascinating and this book promised to cover exactly that territory for the digital revolution.

The Innovators is a significant read: 488 pages covering the history and major developments from the first mechanical counting machines through to the development of the web (which culminates with the creation of the Google search engine). Along the way Issacson paints the portrait of dozens of tech innovators and occasionally reflects on where he sees the field going. It is indeed the story of how a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution as the subtitle reads.

As someone who enjoys this type of literature I really enjoyed it! Issacson is a fantastic writer and I believe the digital revolution is playing out to be an epoch-defining historical event, so I found the history and an insider look at how it came to be to be both fascinating and helpful.

John Wimber's Teaching on the Gift and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Derek Morphew, Øyvind Nerheim

I mean come on, who doesn't want to read a book titled, "John Wimber's teaching on the Holy Spirit"? When I stumbled across this I snatched it up right away and dove in. The book reads in two parts: in the first part, Morphew explores Wimber's "one sealing, many empowerings" understanding of experiencing the Holy Spirit. He reviews some of the historical arguments and explores some more recent scholarship that engages the same conversation (namely Thomas Lyon's thesis work). In the second part, Nerheim covers many practical elements of Wimber's teaching on charismata: gracelets, impartation, roles, ministries, offices, and so forth. There was a lot in this portion that I had heard here and there, but this is the first time I've come across the whole set together in one resource. This was a great book for dusting off a lot of these concepts and will be a great reference point going forward.

American Nations
Colin Woodard

I came across this book just as my adventure that is leading me to Phoenix was kicking off. I could tell something was changing in my life trajectory, but I had no idea what yet. At just that time, this book started showing up everywhere in my Facebook feed. I ignored it for a while, but I had the sense I should give it a read. Eventually I decided to buy it and I found it fascinating. It has helped me understand our nation and pastoral ministry far more than I could have guessed it would! It also wound up being one of the links in the chain that resulted in us choosing Phoenix for our next undertaking.

In this book, Woodard argues that the North American continent is made up of eleven "nations" (roughly uniform cultures). He traces the historical founding of each nation, its cultural distinctive, and its development over the last several hundred years. Along the way various historical events are explored (the civil war being one of the most prominent) and US politics is framed as the interactions of these cultures with each other as they each vie to create the country in their own image.

I found this book fascinating. There is a portion of it that has become part of my toolset in understanding people and why they value what they do. As I travel to various places and work with different groups of people it has provided a kind of cultural map that helps me understand where someone may be coming from and why. In places where these nations come together (as they did in Champaign-Urbana, as well as they do in Chicago), it has proven invaluable for knowing how to pastorally engage diverse value sets.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
Carl Trueman

I don't exactly recall where I came across this book (edit: it was Wilson Cochrane who recommended it to me), but I bumped into it earlier in 2022 and I just recently picked it up to read it through. It was fantastic, I'm so glad I did.

This book is essentially an exposition on the last 250 years of philosophical development in western culture. Starting with the romantics, making his way through Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin, continuing through Freud, and making his way into the countercultural 1960s and beyond (with. many other omitted from this list along the way), Trueman traces the layer-upon-layer of development of our understanding of the self that eventually culminated in the present moment with its current view of the self, and how sexuality and sexual expression is understood as a central facet of who we are. Trueman shows that the present moment and its conversations about sexual ethics are the natural culmination of the idea of the "theraputic self" and what it means when any sense of external authority to the world is removed from the ethical framework.

This was a dense read - it reads like an academic book on the history of philosophy - but it was a fantastic book. As someone who engages culture as a part of my pastoral vocation, I feel like I understand the intellectual underpinnings and trajectory of our culture's ethical imagination in a way I never did before. It also has all kinds of thoughts churning inside about how we can meaningfully engage said culture in dialogue.

The Code Breaker
Walter Isaacson

I bumped into this book randomly at the library one day. I recognized the author because one of my favorite biographies is Isaacsons' Steve Jobs (admittedly as a creative visionary I find Steve Jobs incredibly interesting). On a whim I decided to snag the book and see if it would be a fun way to learn a bit more about the current state of Gene editing and vicarious experience the frontiers of science once again. I'm so glad I did!

Probably. most days that I read this book I found myself exclaiming to Brittany about how good a book it was and how much I was enjoying it. Isaacson's writing style is easy to read - even while unpacking somewhat technical scientific ideas - and his enthusiasm about this emerging field comes through clearly. It's a gripping story that weaves in and out of scientific discovery, entrepreneurial sprints, legal battles, ethical conundrums, and it runs smack into the Coronavirus and how gene editing played a role in diagnostics and vaccine development. The Code Breaker comes in at 481 pages, but it reads so well I hardly noticed!

Disappearing Church
Mark Sayers

I've listened to Mark Sayers in podcast form for a while and in general I've found his cultural analysis to be brilliant. I finally decided to pick up one of his books and give it a read. Fantastic stuff. In this book Sayers, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, grapples with the trajectory of culture in the west and what it means to be the Church in this era. He grapples with the idea of a "third culture" - the term he uses to describe post-Christianity as a culture and what it means to live as a counter cultural "creative minority" in an increasingly secular and anti-Jesus culture. Thought provoking and challenging stuff!

As I read Disappearing Church, I found myself grappling with the meaning behind cultural trends I've seen for quite a while, and I found that a really useful exercise. I also found myself wrestling at a deeper level with what it means to be a counterculture; something Sayers draws to the surface as a need for the Church to embrace. I also just really enjoyed it; it's well written and really thought-provoking.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke
Roger Stronstad

I read this book as part of a theological mentoring program that I'm a part of, and I'm thrilled I did! I found this book incredibly interesting and enlightening to read. This book reads like a theological book (not for those not used to a level of academic reading), but it was well worth the effort.

Stronstad does a masterful job tying together Biblical threads from the Old Testament about the Spirit of God and showing how those threads run continuously through the Luke-Acts two-volume work. I found it really interesting and challenging. I don't think I understood why sometimes I've heard people say that Luke is the "theologian of the Spirit" before reading this book, but I get it now. I also found it really interesting that although Luke is the author who pens the most words of any in the New Testament, I've come across strikingly little conversation about his works. Compared with Paul or John, I found Luke was a gap in my study - and I suspect I'm not alone in that regard. This book helped me develop in a blind spot I didn't know I had.

The Problem of Wineskins
Howard Snyder

I came across this book as a recommendation from Ken Fish. I recently recorded an episode on his podcast and afterwards he recommended that I check out this book and read it through. It was a bit older, but he suggested that some of what I was saying resonated with what Snyder offered as the trajectory of the church in our present day. The Problem of Wineskins is a prophetic challenge to dig deeper: to look beyond the Church-as-Institution that is still so prevalent in our models and methodology in our day and perceive the need to keep the wine (the fellowship of the Christian community), but let God introduce new wineskins (structures that help facilitate said fellowship).

I found this book really encouraging in that it confirmed a lot of the assessments I've made about how our present-day church models are increasingly not fitting this cultural moment and what it means to see the wine and the wineskins separately. The book does show it's age from time to time, but the prophetic challenge Snyder brings to the church feels relevant in our day as well.


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