5 books I never had to read in seminary, but kinda wish I had

I read a lot of books when I was in seminary—many of them really good. But as I continue to read, I come across all kinds of titles I wish had been part of the curriculum, because they are well-written and thoughtful and because the issues they address are critical to the future of the church. Here are five I wish had been in my seminary curriculum.

1. Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

If a book is still in print a century after it was first written, that’s a pretty good sign it’s worth reading. Allen systematically thinks through what Paul did in his missionary journeys, compares it to modern mission practice, and concludes the church is way off base. There are problems with his argument, but it gets the reader thinking about evangelism in a way that you might not have before. (Plus, you can get the Kindle edition for less than $2.) (Vincent Donovan’s incredible Christianity Rediscovered explicitly picks up Allen’s themes, but I actually was assigned that in seminary.)

2. Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life

Aside from the writings of Rowan Williams, no book has influenced my preaching more than this book. What I love about the book is not that I agree with every last word, but the way it challenges me to think about the content of the good news of Jesus Christ the church has to share. As I’ve written, oftentimes in the church it seems like the conversation is about how we proclaim the gospel. There needs to be more discussion about what we proclaim and how it is both good and new.

3. David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission

Here’s a book that combines great Biblical scholarship, solid church history, and thoughtful theology into one profound volume. It’s particularly useful in the church these days when everyone is talking about mission but sometimes we struggle to pin down just what we mean by it. The mission of God is broad and deep. Bosch engages all of it, and this book repays careful reading.

4. Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa 1450-1950

I’m probably biased here, since I spend most of my days studying African Christianity, but the story of the church in Africa is fascinating—and defies the easy notion that somehow missionaries planted a gospel which Africans later made their own. The process of conversion was much more dynamic than that. As the church continues to grow rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s important for us all to understand how it came to be. This book helps us do that.

5. Emma Wild-Wood, Migration and Christianity Identity in Congo (DRC)

You might not guess it from the rather anodyne title but this book is tremendously important—and especially for Anglicans. One thing that the Anglican Communion sorely lacks is a history of itself and particularly of the unique development of each of its provinces. (One very good overview is Kevin Ward’s, A History of Global Anglicanism, which I was assigned in seminary.) This book is a fine-grained and extraordinarily well-researched account of the development of the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). If we’re going to be a global Communion, a good first step is knowing a bit more about where we come from. Also, it tells the story of Apolo Kivebulaya, whom all Anglicans should know about.

There are no novels on the list, even though fiction is often the best teacher. Maybe that will be a future list.

What would be on your list? What books do you wish your priests had read?

International travel and seminary education

Yale Divinity School asked me to write a short article on how my international travel experience affected my education.

It is a fact of the twenty-first century that the church is growing most rapidly outside its historic heartlands of Europe and North America. As future leaders of that church, it’s our job to learn about—and learn with—our sisters and brothers around the world. Only then, I am convinced, can we truly know “the whole gospel.”

You can read the whole thing here. How has international travel changed your views on the church, your faith, or the Gospel?

Who teaches us?

My time at Yale Divinity School is coming to an end. As I’ve been thinking back over it these past few days, I decided to do a little math. The results may only be of interest to me but here’s what I came up with.

In my time at YDS, I’ve taken 22 courses. (You need 24 to graduate. I did a semester abroad, which I’m not counting here.)

Of those 22, 18 were taught or co-taught by male faculty. Seven were taught or co-taught by female faculty. That means only four courses I took were taught solely by a woman.

Nine were taught by ordained faculty members (and one has been ordained since), though I’ve learned that different faculty wear their ordination differently. For some, it barely seems to register in their consciousness.

Four of those 22 courses were taught by non-white faculty, all of whom were male. (And three of those courses, oddly, were taken in the same semester.)

I can’t figure the age breakdown, though I’d guess my faculty have ranged in age from a few years older than me to close to or past retirement.

So what to make of these figures? I don’t think I steered deliberately in any one direction. Many of the courses I’ve taken were required and many of those are taught by white, male faculty.

One thing for sure is that whom we are taught by shapes who we become. The faculty I’ve had courses with are the ones to whom I turn most readily for advice and input on my life and career. How should I feel about the fact that the majority of courses I took were taught by people who are like me? And how will that shape what I do in the future?

Do you think this breakdown is reflective of something specific to Yale or is it generalizable across seminaries?

In any event, interesting questions to reflect on as I prepare to leave this place. Maybe at some point—when I’m really procrastinating—I’ll look back through old syllabi and figure out the breakdown of the books I was assigned to read.