The major component of the "study" part of my study leave was a self-selected reading program. I wanted a balance of biblical study, church life, current issues in faith and theology, and a novel. This morning I completed the seventh, and last, book on my reading list. Listed below are the titles I have read this month and a selected quote from each author.
A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren (259 pages). "... we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible. Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible's highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God." McLaren is a much discussed (and often cussed) lightning rod for discussion these days on matters of faith, theology, and church.
The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle (163 pages). Tickle, an astute observer of church and culture, theorizes that every five hundred or so years the church goes through a seismic shift. As a result, "First: a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second: the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of itself. Third: Every time the the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread."
The Acts of the Apostles by William Neil (259 pages). Neil retired as a professor of New Testament studies at the University of Nottingham. "He (Luke, as author of Acts) makes it plain in what follows that he saw in the Pentecostal utterances of the disciples a foreshadowing of the universal mission of the Church, when men of all nations would be brought into a unity of understanding through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit."
Home (325 pages) by Marilynne Robinson is a sequel (of sorts) to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. This work tells the story of the homecoming a the family prodigal. His aged, Presbyterian minister father tells him, "The grace of God can find any soul, anywhere. And you're confusing something here. Religion is human behavior. Grace is the love of God. Two very different things."
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (240 pages) by N.T. Wright. Wright recently retired as Anglican Bishop of Durham England to retire to full-time teaching and writing. "For Christians it's always a love game. God's love for the world calling out an answering love for us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but that he is love itself."
Acts (193 pages) by William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and currently Bishop for the United Methodist Church in North Alabama. Normally I read commentaries as reference sources for particular passages as I do sermon work. In preparation for a series of sermons from Acts I chose the read these two commentaries "from cover to cover." "The notion that only good things happen to faithful people was put to rest on a Friday afternoon at Calvary. Rather, to be gifted by the Spirit must mean the gift of meaning in our struggles, the conviction that God can use whatever abuse, heartache, and tragedy we encounter in our attempts to be faithful to bring about God's purposes."
Small Strong Congregations: Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation (320 pages). Callahan, retired professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, is one of the nation's most respected voices on church health and mission. "Small, strong congregations invest their resources in helping people discover community: find roots,places, belonging; discover family and friends."
Focused time for reading is often squeezed-out in the day-to-day routines of pastoring. I am grateful for the opportunity to read some books that have been on my desk and shelves for a couple of years and some new materials just for the trip. I am always glad to share!