As I do at the end of every year, here is a list of the books I read this year that were not only interesting but changed how I live.

  • Sacred Fire (Ronald Rolheiser). This book, the second of a proposed trilogy, describes three stages of faith linked to different phases of life: the struggle to get your life together, the struggle to give your life away, and the struggle to give your death away (see this blog post for more details). It really got me thinking about the spiritual formation that is particular to each phase of life, especially post-retirement.
  • Every Body Matters (Gary Thomas). Most Christian discipleship focuses on the development of the rational part of the mind. The emotions are often neglected, but in recent years the Church is getting better with this. However, our spiritual growth efforts usually entirely ignore our bodies. Thomas does a great job of highlighting this shortcoming and suggesting some ways we could include our bodies in our spiritual lives (a paradox that he explains). He is a bit pragmatic at times (i.e., we should work on our bodies so we can remain productive in ministry for a longer span of our lives), but it is a good move into this largely empty space.
    • Another good book in this vein is Bill and Booram’s Awaken Your Senses.
  • The Leader’s Journey (Jim Herrington, Trish Taylor and Robert Creech). I never read leadership books, mostly because I find they place demands on the leader based on a Greco-Roman ideal of the hero-leader that are ultimately soul crushing. However, this one is not. Instead, it focuses on Family Systems Theory and how congregations mimic these relational dynamics first established in our family of origin. Awareness of these relational dynamics within oneself and others can result in a leader bringing a non-anxious presence into every situation, which brings both life to the leader and blesses the system. It is the antidote to the hero-leader view of leadership – and other dysfunctions besides.
  • Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition (Craig Carter). I have long been suspicious of both the modernist approach to interpreting Scripture called the grammatical-historical method as well as the post-modern approaches where meaning is located entirely outside the text and rests in the mind of each reader. Carter finally gave me the key for unlocking this problem by showing how the pre-modern approach to Scripture was both intellectually rigorous and open to multiple levels of meaning. It is, however, a tough read and gets into excessive detail (for me) at certain points. But it was rewarding to no longer have to study Scripture with one set of rules and meditate on Scripture with another.
  • “Understanding Oral Learners” (Jay Moon). This article put to words something I had long suspected, which is that our teaching over emphasizes reading culture (i.e. reading books and writing papers) over oral culture (i.e. listening to and speaking with people). And this isn’t just an issue overseas with people of pre-literary cultures; with the advent of the digital age, many modern students prefer to learn via listening than reading. In the article, Moon shines some light on the problem but also gives some great ideas on how teachers can expand their reading-culture toolbox to include activities that engage oral-preference learners.