On the Shelf: Books We’re Reading | Fall 2010

Since my wife and I started the Sustainable Traditions project we have had the privilege of connecting with several publishers who have offered us review copies of their books to feature on the blogazine here.

What's on your shelf? (montage: J Fowler)

Due to the volume of books we have been receiving we have had a hard time keeping up with posting regular book reviews, but while we catch up I wanted to give you a quick run down on what we’ve been reading.

Most of the books below are somewhat theological, which we love, but in the future we also hope to expand our book reviews to the various other topics we cover on this blogazine. If you have written an original book review you think we might want to feature: contact us with a link to your review.

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Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (by Mae Elise Cannon)

This book is a foundational reading of GOD’s concern for justice in the world, as well as an extensive encyclopedia of  social justice issues. The author encourages readers to embrace a holistic gospel that addresses the world’s need for spiritual, emotional, physical, and social redemption through Jesus and His call to the shalom of His unseen Kingdom. The beginning of the book starts with these theologically grounded chapters:

  • GOD’s Heart For Justice
  • Social Justice: Defining the Issue
  • A History of Christian Social Justice in the Americas
  • Moving from Apathy to Advocacy
  • Solutions to Injustice

The second half of the book addresses specific social justice issues from a broadly Christian perspective, covering everything from AIDS to The Working Poor. Beyond that it offers a brilliant list of resources and ministries to get involved with once you finish reading the book. The author states in the introduction:

“This book is a “doing” book-calling the church into action. The evangelical church has strayed from it’s original roots. We must return to our twofold purpose of a contemplative tradition reflecting good theology and a church that put it’s beliefs into practice through action.” (p.13)

Here’s a further summary of the book from Intervarsity Press:

“…Mae Elise Cannon provides a comprehensive resource for Christians like you who are committed to social justice. She presents biblical rationale for justice and explains a variety of Christian approaches to doing justice. Tracing the history of Christians in social engagement, she lifts out role models and examples from the Great Awakenings to the civil rights movement…” (From IVP)

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Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice)

I especially love how they speak of godly lament in the book. I’m looking forward to reviewing this one.

“…In Reconciling All Things Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, codirectors of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, cast a comprehensive vision for reconciliation that is biblical, transformative, holistic and global. They draw on the resources of the Christian story, including their own individual experiences in Uganda and Mississippi, to bring solid, theological reflection to bear on the work of reconciling individuals, groups and societies. They recover distinctively Christian practices that will help the church be both a sign and an agent of God’s reconciling love in the fragmented world of the twenty-first century…” (FromIn Reconciling All Things Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, codirectors of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, cast a comprehensive vision for reconciliation that is biblical, transformative, holistic and global. They draw on the resources of the Christian story, including their own individual experiences in Uganda and Mississippi, to bring solid, theological reflection to bear on the work of reconciling individuals, groups and societies. They recover distinctively Christian practices that will help the church be both a sign and an agent of God’s reconciling love in the fragmented world of the twenty-first century…” (From IVP)

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Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives (by Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford)

I’m really excited about the concept of ‘worldviews’ right now because I think we often ignore the undercurrents of what we really believe. This is somewhat academic but still accessible. This is one of my favorites so far.

“Why do we buy what we buy, vote the way we vote, eat what we eat and say what we say? Why do we have the friends we have, and work and play as we do? It’s our choice? Yes, but there are forces, often unseen, that shape every decision we make and every action we take.

These hidden, life-shaping values and ideas are not promoted through organized religions or rival philosophies but fostered by cultural habits, lifestyles and the institutional structures of society. Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford shine a spotlight on the profound challenges to Christianity and faithful Christian living that come from worldviews that comprise the cultural soup we swim in.” (From IVP)

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Authentic Commnication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture (by Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis)

Look out! This is very academic- not a book for the casual reader- definitely a ‘heavy-lifter’.

…Whether setting about to love our neighbor, to settle a dispute, to share in the suffering of others or to speak up on behalf of the marginalized, we inevitably must engage in communication. And what could be more natural, more human, than communication?

But we all learn quickly enough that good communication is not always natural. There is much to learn from Scripture and from the academic study of human communication. Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis are able guides, aiding us in understanding the broad field of human communication in Christian perspective…” (From IVP)

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The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time (by our friend Tom Sine!)

This book is one of my favorites as I have had a chance to befriend the author, Tom Sine. I greatly respect Tom and some of the foundational concepts behind the Sustainable Traditions project were inspired by Tom’s (and his wife Christine‘s) writings in which he and Christine call Christians to cultivate a counter-cultural, whole-life Christian faith that begins in small ways to change the course of the future for those around us and those in need around the world.

“…In a world where the gulf between the very rich and the profoundly poor is constantly growing, can a mustard-seed faith make any difference? And can such a little bit of faith be sustained in a world whose future is so uncertain on so many fronts?

Tom Sine says yes, and he has the audacity to try to prove it in his latest book. In The New Conspirators Tom surveys the landscape of creative Christianity, where streams of renewal are flowing freely from diverse sources…” (from IVP)

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Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church (by Tim Morey)

I have recently stumbled into the phrase ‘incarnational faith’ and realized that is what we deeply desire- a personal pursuit of Jesus that rearranges our lives and spills out into the world -that’s what this book is all about. This book is definitely more theological than practical so far, so I could see church leaders especially appreciating it- but anyone interested in engaging their communities from a missional context would eat this up.

“Somewhere along the line there was a split between our theology of church and our theology of mission. “Church”  became the building on the corner where we worship on Sundays and hold an occasional potluck. “Mission” became an activity that happens somewhere else, usually by someone else. Rather than seeing the church as missional in nature and existing for the good of the world, we came to see the church as existing for our benefit and missions for the benefit of others…This split in our understanding of church and mission has influenced how the church perceives it’s identity and purpose…” (p.60-61)

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Pure Scum: The Left-Out, the Right-Brained and the Grace of God (by Mike Sares)

This book may not directly relate to many of the topics we cover on the website here but this personal narrative of one pastor’s out-of-the-box faith really encouraged me in my own deepening  journey towards GOD’s Kingdom of ragamuffin redemption. I just finished this one, so I should be posting the review soon.

“…In Pure Scum Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth, takes us along a faith journey, telling the story of how a pretty normal, middle-aged guy met and became friends with Reese Roper and other members of the band, Five Iron Frenzy, and got hoodwinked by FIF and the Holy Spirit into pastoring of a vibrant church full of artists and skater punks…” (From IVP)

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Whole Life Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs (by Keith Meyer)

I firmly believe that this book could serve as a catalyst to redemptive change for hurting pastors and congregations that are mired in the status quo of ornamental (but fruitless) Christian faith. I can see how this book could have a revolutionizing effect on frustrated church leaders who are looking for a new way to go beyond surface religion. This book is strongly influenced by Dallas Willard‘s theology of spiritual formation, discipleship and the Kingdom of GOD. It also honestly traces the authors journey towards the healing of his fragmented life as he encourages church leaders to begin seeking a deeper ‘whole-life transformation’ in Jesus. This is incredible read so far even though I am not a church leader. It’s refreshing to hear someone speaking honestly about the self-deception and compartmentalizing so rampant in American Christianity.

“A person’s whole life in all it’s dimensions needs to be transformed. We need more than church activities or some spiritual disciplines laid on top of or alongside the unchanged reality of our life. This includes our mind (thoughts and feelings), body, spirit/heart/will, and social relationships…” (p.44)

“Much advice on spiritual growth and Christian living in evangelical circles unintentionally teaches a form of the double life. Why do we believe that one or two hours on Sunday morning will bring significant change to our lives? Most remedies for sin boil down to more church attendance and a greater devotional life. We believe that church programming, small groups and Bible studies, mission trips and service at church are the ways to bring change to our real lives, but they remain untouched. (p.45)

“I noticed that I was split off from parts of my self that were unformed and from my family members. I also saw the fractured and fragmented corporate life of my church. We gave lip service to love of others, but saw little of it being demonstrated in our congregation. But the greatest place where things were dissociated from reality was our church’s relationship to the world. We all lived in the everyday world of work, play and neighborhood, but our church life engaged these places hardly at all…” (p.48)

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Pilgrimage of A Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life (by Phileena Heuertz)

This is one of the more recent books we received and from just glancing through, it appears to be a deeply personal account filled with profound insights for those of us with a more contemplative bent- or for those of us who see the need to include contemplative and prayerful solitude in our rhythm of life. It also looks like a hopeful encouragement for those of us who struggle with GOD’s apparent silence when we attempt times of solitude.

“For more than a decade, Chris and I had engaged a world of poverty—children forced to be soldiers in West Africa, children abandoned because of AIDS in India, women and girls enslaved in the commercial sex industry, victims of war in Kosovo, children living on the streets in urban centers of South America.Wanting to respond to these people who had become my friends compelled me to give everything I could toward building an international community that would bear witness to a better world—a community that would emulate justice, peace, equality and opportunity, a community that would reflect the reign of Christ. In a world like ours where the work seems to never get done and there’s always more to do, our community encouraged my husband and me to rest from this labor. It’s sort of shocking, isn’t it? In a world of extreme injustice and poverty, how could we stop serving and disengage from it all? There’s so much to be done. . . .

Again, Mother Teresa teaches us. In her rules she established a rigorous schedule of service accompanied by a thoughtful period of regular rest—one day a week, one week a month, one month per year, one year in every six. Mother knew better than any of us that our labor on behalf of the poor is never done. But she also understood the value of solitude, silence and stillness…” (excerpt from the book via IVP)

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Keeping GOD’s Earth: The Global Environment in Biblical Perspective (edited by Noah J. Toly and Daniel I. Block)

In these times, environmental issues are one of the most important problems we can address- for the sake of GOD’s creation but also for the lives of us all who are intimately linked with the world around us. I’m still amazed that we can ‘foul our nest’ without understanding the consequences of those actions. Christians need to expose themselves to many perspectives on environmental issues and wrestle with an informed and prayerful response. This is the thickest book on the review book shelf right now- weighing in above all the others at 300 pages! This is not lite reading but a very studious resource tying together both science and theology. My favorite quote so far from the book is:

“…this world is destined for renewal rather than destruction…When we recognize that GOD plans to restore his creation, we should be motivated to “work for the renewal of GOD’s creation and for justice within GOD’s creation…” (p.42)

A summary of the book:

“Diversity of life. Water resources. Global climate change. Cities and global environmental issues. We all know being a Christian involves ethical responsibility. But what exactly are our environmental obligations?

This unique volume edited by Wheaton College professors Noah J. Toly and Daniel I. Bock, teams up scientists with biblical scholars to help us discern just that question. What does the Lord require of us?

Here you’ll read informed essays from Christian teachers in a variety of fields, ranging from New Testament, Old Testament, Christian theology and ethics to geology, biology, atmospheric physics and environmental science. Their biblical insight combined with scientific expertise will provide you with a deeper understanding and clear guidance on the most important environmental issues facing us today.” (From IVP)

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Farming As A Spiritual Discipline (a small collection of essays by Ragan Sutterfield)

I have had the privilege of connecting with Ragan personally and we have been honored to have him contribute many posts here to the Sustainable Traditions blogazine. He is a rising voice in the move towards embracing a deeply Biblical view of GOD’s creation and a more creational understanding of GOD’s Coming Kingdom.

Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and a farmer in his home state of Arkansas. Currently he helps direct a farm at the Felder School, a public charter school for troubled youth, and he writes and lectures on the subjects of sustainable agriculture and the theology of creation. Farming as a Spiritual Discipline is a collection of essays born out of two lectures and a sermon given at Englewood Christian Church in November 2008…” (from Englewood Review of Books)

“”Farming is essentially the practice of cultivating creation and how we see farming depends entirely on how we see creation. From there, we could say that how we see food depends on how we see farming and how we go about eating reflects what we think about people and our place and role in creation. These are questions that if we followthem, go all the way down to the essential questions of who we are.” (from the book)

We have already reviewed this book so: check it out. And also check out our interview with Ragan about the book.
Also here are a few more resources featuring Ragan:

We Live Simply: Five Questions With Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield:  Good Food for Everyone– How to Build Community Gardens: CCDA 2009 Audio

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What’s on your shelf? What are you reading lately?

(Editor’s Note: We have a bunch more books we want to mention so stay tuned for more!)

Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time