BOOK OF THE YEAR
JOHN WESLEY IN AMERICA: Restoring Primitive Christianity. By Geordan Hammond. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. Xv + 237 pages.
As I looked over the books published in 2014, which I read, there were a number of standouts. I had a difficult time choosing, but decided in the end that Geordan Hammond's study of John Wesley's time in America deserved special attention. I am not a Wesley scholar (I am a student of 18th century English church history however), but I believe that Geordan's examination of Wesley's desire to implement what he believed was primitive Christianity (as filtered through high church Anglican and Nonjuror thought and practice) is groundbreaking and could change our understanding of Wesley and his mission in important ways. It is scholarly but accessible. My review can be found here.BEST BOOKS
The remaining books, all of which I found to stand out among the many excellent books I read, and they are listed by category and are not in any specific order (other than my random choice).
History and Biography
- JESUS: A Pilgrimage. By James Martin, S.J. San Francisco: Harper One, 2014. 510 pages.
Where to put James Martin's study of Jesus? It is part biography, part travelogue, part biblical study. Whatever the nature of the book, James Martin, SJ, chaplain to Stephen Colbert, brings wonderful insight to the life and teachings of Jesus by taking us on a pilgrimage to the sites where these events are alleged to have taken place. In doing so, we find ourselves engrossed in history, social realities, and more. A wonderful book by a most engaging author. My review is found here.
- THE AMERICAN CHURCH THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: A History of the Consultation on Church Union. By Keith Watkins with Foreword by Michael Kinnamon. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014. Xviii + 244 pages.
- Living as we do in an age when the value of institutional religion is being questioned, the formal ecumenical movement has lost much of its steam. But once, not so long ago, there was a dream to create a powerful unified mainline Protestant church that would stand tall with the Roman Catholic Church. Much work was done in resolving long standing issues of ministry, theology, membership, and sacraments. In the end, the churches couldn't make the jump, but the work done has made significant contributions to Protestant Christianity. Keith Watkins, a participant in the work of the Consultation on Church Union has written an important study of COCU and its impact. It is well worth reading. My review is found here.
Bible and Theology
- DEUTERONOMY (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible). By Deanna A. Thompson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. Xvii + 270 pages
- Deanna Thompson's recent contribution to Westminster John Knox Press's Belief series of theological commentaries is insightful, theologically rich, and a joy to read. Rarely do Christian preachers or bible students turn to Deuteronomy, but in Thompson's hands the text comes alive. She deals with matters of covenant, which are so important to the Christian faith and the question of divine wrath, which tends to be off-putting for contemporary Christians. All in all, this is a commentary to add to one's library so as it can be turned to with regularity. My review is found here.
Church and Spirituality
- SLOW CHURCH: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. By C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. 246 pages.
- In an increasingly fast-paced world, Chris Smith and John Pattison take a clue from the slow food movement and urge us to slow down, so that we might engage in conversation with God and with each other. It is a call for the church to be a community where lives are transformed and empowered for ministry in the world. It is counter-intuitive but could revolutionize the church. This is a must read. My review is found here.
- THE NEW PARISH: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. By Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2014. 206 pages.
- We have been living in an era of the mega-church, which like modern malls are destination churches. Usually built near a freeway, one can come and go quickly, without engaging the neighborhood. In this book, which pairs nicely with Slow Church above, the authors of this book call us to focus more tightly on the neighborhoods in which the church exists. They take the older vision of the church as parish, where the concern of the congregation was not simply for its members, but for the entire neighborhood. It is an insightful and challenging book that deserves our attention. My review is found here.
Religion and Public Life
- FAITH-ROOTED ORGANIZING: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. By Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel. (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2014). 207 pages
- As one engaged in faith-based community organizing I am always on the lookout for books and resources that help define this work in ways that keep the work spiritually/theologically grounded. There were several books that appeared this year, including Roger Gench's Theology from the Trenches, which I found to be extremely insightful and helpful. I have chosen to highlight this book by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel, because it expands the vision beyond traditional organizing premises to focus on the need for solidarity, a vision that can be of great help for congregations and activists who live in more comfortable circumstances. By the way, I would encourage the reading of both this book and that by Gench, for they are complementary. My review is found here.