On My Bookshelf

While aware that Amazon offers much, much more than books, if I am given an Amazon gift card it’s almost always books I purchase. Below are some recent acquisitions, a couple I’ve read, others dipped into, and others awaiting my attention.

Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age by Andrew Root

Andrew Root is a practical theologian (are other theologians impractical? Some might argue!) who for the last few years has been working on a series called “Ministry in a Secular Age.” Initially prompted by the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, particularly in his book A Secular Age, Root examines what it means to be the church and to do ministry in the secular age we’re in.

Having already read through a few books in this series, this one stands out because he applies his insightful, more theoretical content through a fictional story, the narrative of Saint John the Baptist Church, a congregation feeling the pressures of the time and situation they are in and how they encounter God in the midst of it. I was deeply moved by this story and how in many ways it’s a representative story that a lot of actual churches face.

Root also draws on the early pastoral and theological career and life of 20th century theologian Karl Barth. Since I did my master’s thesis on Barth and read quite a lot of him and about him back in my grad school days, I also enjoyed this aspect of the book.

One of the other things I appreciate about Root’s work is that he helps us to understand not only our cultural context and how that affects ministry and church life but how our often ill-fitting attempts at relevance play into rather than address the issues we’re facing. The key word is resonance.

The Church After Innovation: Questioning Our Obsession with Work, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship by Andrew Root

This book is the newest in Root’s series mentioned. I haven’t cracked it open yet but look forward to doing so.

The Deepest Belonging: A Story About Discovering Where God Meets Us by Kara K. Root

By now you’re probably sensing a pattern. Kara Root is a Presbyterian Pastor who, yes, also happens to be the wife of Andrew Root, whose books I feature above. Indeed, that is how I discovered her book. And am I ever grateful I did. Part memoir, part spiritual reflection, and part narrative, Root’s book is a devastatingly honest account of what it means to encounter God in the midst of deep suffering. It was a much heavier, more vulnerable piece of writing than I was expecting. Part way through the book, when Root is recounting a conversation she had with God (using some very visceral language) while driving on an LA highway, I found myself unsure about whether or not I wanted to keep reading. Not because it isn’t well-written, because it is. Not because it doesn’t speak to me, because it most certainly does. But because her story and the story of her congregation and a man named Marty is so brutal and beautiful, so vulnerable and unflinching about what it means to live in the presence of God in a world of pain, and to do so in community, that I found myself having to look at and feel things in myself that were uncomfortable. This book is ultimately about encountering God in the middle of so many things we wish we didn’t have to deal with and don’t normally want to talk about. And how we most profoundly have these encounters in community. Root’s story both unnerved me at times and encouraged me. I couldn’t recommend it more.

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

This is one I’ve seen cited many, many times. It’s subtitle on the cover says it’s “a penetrating analysis of our technical civilization and the effect of an increasingly standardized culture on the future of man.” I’ve been interested in Ellul for a long time. Though it’s 400 pages of dense prose in small print. We’ll see how far I get.

This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems and The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

I never liked poetry when I was in school or university, except in little bits. Often because I didn’t get it. But over the last few years my appreciation of poetry has grown. And Wendell Berry is another one of those oft-quote and cited authors. So I thought I’d check out these collections. The first is a chronological collection of poems written, as the title suggests, about the Sabbath. The second has two poems of Berry’s that are already favourites, “The Peace of Wild Things,” which contains the line “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free,” and “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” I am learning that poetic language speaks truth in a way that is uniquely resonating. And since a good portion of the Bible is written in poetry, I ought to have a deeper appreciation for this literary form.

What If Jesus Was Serious About the Church? A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended by Skye Jethani

This the third in the What if Jesus Was Serious series. In these books, Jethani combines thoughtfulness and creativity by combining reflections with cartoon illustrations (what he calls “doodles”). I’ve enjoyed this series so far. It’s great for devotions, because the chapters are short and include suggestions for Bible readings.

So that’s what’s currently on my bookshelf. Some of these books are ones you an pick up occasionally (the books of Berry’s poetry and Jethani’s), while others require more sustained attention (like the books by Andrew and Kara Root and Ellul). Some I’ve enjoyed already, while others I hope to enjoy.

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