Friday, February 29, 2008

Books for February

Here's an overview of the books I finished in February, and my recommendations about them (including a ranking on a 1-to-10 scale).

How Your Church Family Works
by Peter L. Steinke: This is a great book, though the audience for it is something of a niche. It's really a book for Pastors and maybe church leaders; I could see a Session reading through it together, if the Pastor did a fair amount of additional explanation and teaching. (But it would be a good exercise.) The book takes basic family systems theory, a valuable practice in individual counseling, and applies those concepts to congregations as a broader spiritual family system. If you loved the Marriage & Family Counseling class in seminary and learned a lot from your genogram, you will love this book. The first half is fairly dense with theory, but well-done and important; the second part, where he gets into the practical application, really soars. A very good book. (9)

The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright (skim): Once I realized that this book was a summary/lay-level version of Jesus and the Victory of God, which I read in detail for seminary, I switched to "skim" mode and worked through it quickly. Both books are the fruit of Wright's participation in the so-called Third Quest, which has produced some quite useful (though sometimes controversial) materials about the historical Jesus. Wright is a thoughtful, smart fellow who has many helpful insights into Jesus' life and ministry. At the same time, Wright's work is frequently provocative (though less so in this book, as the theological themes are toned down a bit), and the focus of these books on (among other things) the life of Christ led many to believe he denied the resurrection (which he answered with the third book in the original series, The Resurrection and the Son of God). While this one is a good summary, it's still far from light reading, and I would recommend it mainly for those who have some theological reading under their belts, and who have honed their theological discernment a bit. (A qualified 7+/8)

Benedictions by Robert Vasholz: Here's another more esoteric read for many-- though Pastors (and seminarians) will love the accessibility of this tool. In a search through the whole of Scripture, Vasholz has identified 109 distinct benedictions, and formulated them into the sort of poetic pronouncement common at the end of a worship service. Vasholz also included a (very) brief history of the benediction in Christian worship, penned by his colleague at Covenant Seminary, Church Historian David Calhoun. This book is published as a reference for Pastors, and as such doesn't make for a great bedtime reader; nevertheless, I read through it (I really did-- I read every benediction) and I'm thrilled about the possibility of pronouncing a different benediction every week for two years. (9)

The Shadow of the Cross by Walter Chantry (re-read): I was given this little volume years ago by my friend Richard Burguet, and have re-read it several times. It's subtitle is "Studies in Self-Denial" and it was, in my early 20s, exactly the tempering approach to Christianity that I needed, brash and over-confident as I was. Now, in my mid-30s it still holds similar value, reminding me of my call to servanthood and selflessness in life, family, and ministry. While it's not a long book (79p.), it's not necessarily a quick read. Still, I don't have many books on my shelf that I try to make a point of re-reading every couple of years or so-- and thus I don't have many books on my shelf I would recommend as highly as I do this one. (9+/10)

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