"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight."

Martin Luther King Jr.

2018 Reading List – 1/4

It’s hard to believe we are already 25% of the way through 2018. I’m going to try something new this year and post my yearly reading list as the year progresses (once per quarter). You can see my yearly list at any time by clicking on the upper right menu title named “reading list” on my blog.

Here are the books I’ve read since January of 2018 with my rating for them (5 being the best) along with a brief review. Any book without a number rating has been given to me by the author or publisher. In addition to this list, you might also check out my reading lists from previous years as well as my recommendations on how to become a better reader.

(Click here) to see the books I have personally written, and see below for the ones I’ve read this year. Click on any of the titles below to get to a link to buy it.


Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

Not only do I love the title of Brian Zahnd’s latest book, but I also love the ideas themselves. In Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (see: Amazon link), Brian tackles many of the cultural images we’ve developed to formulate an angry-god-in-the-sky theology.

One of the best parts of the book is the way Brian helps the reader to rightly value and use the Bible without making it the focus above Jesus Himself. I’ve met many Christians who either dramatically devalue the Bible and spend little to no time reading it or those who dramatically overvalue it and treat it as if it is God itself and worthy of worship. Brian helps to navigate this tension. As he profoundly highlights, “God did not become a book, but God did become a human being.”


Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks

I recently finished my second book from the theologian Walter Brueggemann. I was blown away when I read The Prophetic Imagination last year (see: blog review). This time I worked my way through his book Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (see: Amazon link). It’s a bit of a strange title and an even more unique premise. Brueggemann compares the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon with the attacks on America on September 11th. What links these two together is a strong sense of exceptionalism that was dramatically shattered in each example. As a result, he argues that“The prophetic task, in our contemporary society as in ancient Jerusalem, is to counter the governing ideology, in both cases that of exceptionalism.”

Brueggemann contrasts the flow of ideology-denial-despair with the counterpoint of realism-grief-hope. The first three (ideology–>denial–>despair) is the method of empire and this is what leads to an overdeveloped sense of exceptionalism. But it works only until it doesn’t. That’s where the fall of Jerusalem and the 9/11 attacks ushered in a new opportunity to escape the normal thought process and enter into a time of realism–>grief–>hope. Our choice today is to continue the first cycle or learn to embrace the prophetic call of the second.“9/11 is a symbol and an epitome of the wide and deep loss now faced in our society that requires rethinking from the ground up.” One will cause us to live in a perpetual sense of despair while the other offers a robust sense of hope. Brueggemann sees these three prophetic tasks laid out in the Old Testament:


Redeeming Pleasure Series

It’s been a few years since I released my second book, Redeeming Pleasure. But this past month I had the chance to write a new series about it and preach four messages that take concepts in the book and develop them in new ways. If you haven’t yet read the book, it gives an easy overview into the ideas. If you have read the book, you’ll recognize a few of the key themes and then will hopefully see them in a nuanced way as I develop them differently than I did in the book. You can also check out a site that explores more aspects of the book (see: RedeemingPleasure.com).


Deep Work

It’s extremely early in the year for me to already add a five-star rating to a book on my yearly reading list. Yet here we are. I recently finished Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work (see: Amazon link). He writes about a different type of work which is increasingly rare these days yet which offers a disproportionate amount of return. Newport defines deep work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” As the frequency and sophistication of the distractions continue to increase around us, those people who find the time and ability to achieve deep work will stand out from the rest. In addition, they will feel a sense of contribution on a greater level.

How much “distraction-free concentration” time do you have in your schedule? With the busyness of my life, I realize my need to intentionally work toward this. I was immensely intrigued by almost every section of this book. This is one of those books you have to digest slowly as you consider ways to apply (and disrupt) it to your current habits. As Newport argues, “the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” This may sound daunting given your current reality, yet he provides numerous ways to approach this idea and how to nuance the application for your situation.