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?

Recommended reading for the structure committee

The Episcopal Church has a new committee charged with re-designing the church’s structure. Many other American denominations are making or have made similar moves lately, part of a push towards a more “missional” focus for the church. While I have some concern that the Episcopal committee is, at 24 members, too large as to be unwieldy, I look forward to hearing their recommendations in a few years time.

Since it’ll likely be a little while until they meet formally, they have some time do some holiday reading. Here’s a preliminary list of books I hope the committee members are familiar with:

  • Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? First published in 1912, this book from an Anglican missionary in China upended missionary orthodoxies of the day and remains as relevant and enduring a challenge to the church of our time as it was to his. (I wrote more about Allen’s relevance a while back.)
  • Vincent Donovan, Christianity RediscoveredDonovan was a Catholic missionary among the Maasai and his book represents an attempt—half a century later—to put Allen’s teaching into practice. It’s an incredible reflection that forces the reader to think seriously about what the core of the church is, what the message is that the church has to offer, and how all of that works out in messy, real-world ways.
  • David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Just re-issued for its 20-year anniversary, this is the single best book I ever read in seminary. David Bosch, a South African who was killed shortly after this was published, takes the reader through the Biblical basis for mission and the history of different mission paradigms, before laying out a multi-part understanding of what the mission is to which the church is called. Incredible reading.
  • Christopher Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright takes the reader through the whole sweep of the Bible, demonstrating how mission is the key theme of the writings that form the ground for our faith. It’s another thick book, but it’s also one will make you look at the Bible in a new way and, if nothing else, give you great material for your next Bible study or sermon.
  • One I haven’t been able to read—but would like to—is Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives, a series of essays from young Anglicans around the world.

What would you recommend? These are all books about mission, in one way or another. Any suggestions for books about organizational change, management theory, etc.? Leave suggestions in the comments.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good read!