This list includes most of the books quoted in Connections from 1998 to 2017. Click on a title (at right, below) to see a brief description and a link to the issue in which the book was quoted. Click on a category (at left, below) to see descriptions of books that more or less fit that category.
Bible’s meaning for today
Effects of cultural change and generational differences
Effects of personality differences
Methodism, United and otherwise
Spiritual growth, guidance, and journeys (Also see Barbara’s list of the books that have been most important for her spiritual journey, in the Aug 2012 Connections.)
Spiritual discernment for church decision-making
Authors and titles
Allen, Joseph L. – War: A Primer for Christians
Armstrong, Karen – The Battle for God
Armstrong, Karen – The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
Armstrong, Karen – The Case for God
Artress, Lauren – Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool
Baab, Lynne M. – Personality Type in Congregations
Bacevich, Andrew J. – The Limits of Power
Bandy, Thomas G. – Kicking Habits
Bass, Diana Butler – Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith
Bass, Diana Butler – The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church
Beaudoin, Tom – Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X
Beck, Richard – Unclean
Borg, Marcus J. – The Heart of Christianity
Borg, Marcus J. – Jesus: A New Vision
Borg, Marcus J. – Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time
Borg, Marcus J. – Reading the Bible Again for the First Time
Borg, Marcus J. and John Dominic Crossan – The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth
Borg, Marcus J. and John Dominic Crossan – The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem
Bourgeault, Cynthia – The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart
Bourgeault, Cynthia – The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity
Boyd, Malcolm & J. Jon Bruno – In Times Like These: How We Pray
Bradshaw, Paul – Two Ways of Praying
Budde, Michael J., and Robert W. Brimlow, eds. – The Church as Counterculture
Cartledgehayes, Mary – Grace: A Memoir
Case, Riley B. – Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History
Chittister, Joan – In Search of Belief
Cobb, John B. – Reclaiming the Church: Where the Mainline Church Went Wrong and What to Do About It
Cobb, John B. et al – The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God
Cousineau, Phil – The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred
Cousineau, Phil, editor – The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life
Cox, Harvey – The Future of Faith
Crossan, John Dominic – A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir
Crossan, John Dominic – God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now
Crossan, John Dominic and Marcus J. Borg – The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth
Crossan, John Dominic and Marcus J. Borg – The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem
Cupitt, Don – Radical Theology
Dawn, Marva J. – Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down
Diamond, Rick – Wrestling with God
Dick, Dan R. – Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness
Dykes, Deborah W. – Stellarella! It’s Saturday!
Easum, Bill, and Thomas G. Bandy – Growing Spiritual Redwoods
Eck, Diana – A New Religious America
Elliott, Richard F., Jr. – Falling in Love with Mystery: We Don’t Have To Pretend Anymore
Elnes, Eric – Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith Along the Highways of America
Falk, Richard A. et al – The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God
Fowler, James W. – Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning
Friedman, Thomas L. – The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thank You for Being Late
Geering, Lloyd – Fundamentalism
Gilbert, Chandler W. – Seed Pods and Periscopes
Godwin, Gail – Evensong
Good, Jack – The Dishonest Church
Griffin, David Ray et al – The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God
Gulley, Philip – If the Church Were Christian
Gulley, Philip – The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity
Hamilton, Adam – When Christians Get It Wrong
Hamilton, Adam – Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White
Harris, Sam – The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
Hedges, Chris – War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Hedrick, Charles W., editor – When Faith Meets Reason
Hendricks, Obery M., Jr. – The Politics of Jesus
Herbert, T. Walter – Faith-Based War
Hill, Craig C. – Servant of All
Holmes, William A. – Mature Christianity
Holthaus, Gary – Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West
Holthaus, Gary – The Unauthorized Bible
Howell, James C. – Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs: Saints and Their Stories
Jensen, Robert – All My Bones Shake
Johnson, Luke Timothy – Scripture and Discernment
Judy, Ruth H. – Where My Soul Lives: Being a Christian Outside the Lines
Keller, Catherine et al – The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God
Kenneson, Philip D. – Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community
Killen, Patricia O’Connell – Finding Our Voices: Women, Wisdom, and Faith
Kinnaman, David – You Lost Me
Lawrence, Wm. B. et al – Connectionalism
Leopold, Les – Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice
Lester, Andrew D. – The Angry Christian and Coping with Your Anger
Levine, Amy-Jill – The Misunderstood Jew
McClain, George D. – Claiming All Things for God: Prayer, Discernment, and Ritual for Social Change
Marty, Martin E., and Appleby, R. Scott, eds. – Fundamentalisms Observed
Meyer, Chuck – Dying Church, Living God: A Call to Begin Again
Meyers, Robin R. – Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, Spiritual Defiance
Meyers, Robin R. – The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
Morgan, David – Icons of American Protestantism: The Art of Warner Sallman
Morgan, David – Visual Piety
Morris, Danny E., and Charles M. Olsen – Discerning God’s Will Together
Mouw, Richard – Uncommon Decency
Norris, Kathleen – Amazing Grace
Packard, Josh, and Ashleigh Hope – Church Refugees
Palmer, Parker J. – Let Your Life Speak
Patterson, Stephen J. – Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus
Peck, M. Scott – In Search of Stones
Porter, Thomas W., ed. – Conflict and Communion
Rendle, Gil – Journey in the Wilderness
Rendle, Gil – Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement
Richey, Russell E. et al – Questions for the Twenty-First Century Church
Richey, Russell E. et al – The People(s) Called Methodist
Ricker, George M. – What You Don’t Have To Believe To Be a Christian
Rieger, Joerg – Methodist and Radical: Rejuvenating a Tradition
Rieger, Joerg – Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times
Rohr, Richard – Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety
Sachs, Jeffrey – The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
Saliers, Don E. – Worship Come to Its Senses
Schaller, Lyle E. – Discontinuity and Hope: Radical Change and the Path to the Future
Smith, Huston – The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life
Smith, Huston – The World’s Religions
Spong, John Shelby – Eternal Life: A New Vision
Spong, John Shelby – Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World
Spong, John Shelby – The Sins of Scripture
Spong, John Shelby – Why Christianity Must Change or Die
Sprague, C. Joseph – Affirmations of a Dissenter
Steves, Rick – Travel as a Political Act
Stewart, Katherine – The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children
Taylor, Barbara Brown – Leaving Church
Thangaraj, M. Thomas – Relating to Other Religions
Thompson, Marjorie J. – Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
Tickle, Phyllis – Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
Tickle, Phyllis – The Great Emergence
Tickle, Phyllis – Rediscovering the Sacred
Vosper, Gretta – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe
Wallis, Jim – God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It
Ware, Corinne – Discover Your Spiritual Type
Webb, Val – In Defense of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure
Webb, Val – Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine
Webb, Val – Stepping Out with the Sacred: Human Attempts to Engage the Divine
Wills, Dick – Waking to God’s Dream
Wink, Walter – The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium
Wolsey, Roger – Kissing Fish
Wuthnow, Robert – Growing Up Religious
Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity, by Roger Wolsey (XLibris, 2011) Wolsey is a UMC clergyman who sees a discouraging number of young people shifting away from Christianity. He finds that what has driven many of them off is a version of it that he doesn’t see as genuine Christianity. Wolsey’s book, combining personal memoir with theology and written in a conversational style, presents progressive Christianity as a better choice than fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism. Extensive samples from the book are available free at www.progressivechristianitybook.com. Read more about it in the May 2013 Connections.
Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, by John Shelby Spong (HarperOne, 2011) Spong gives an overview of what he sees as the consensus of leading scholars’ findings about how, when, and why each section of the Bible and several of its individual books were written. You can read more about Spong’s book in the Jan 2012 Connections.
The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong (HarperOne, 2000) Karen Armstrong describes conditions that began in 1492 and led to the appearance of fundamentalism in the world’s three major monotheistic religions, and the development of fundamentalism in the 20th century. Read more in the July 2012 Connections.
Fundamentalism: The Challenge to the Secular World, by Lloyd Geering (St. Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, 2003) In this short, easy-to-read book, Geering describes the origin of Christian fundamentalism and discusses what he sees as its significance for today. The complete book is available free on the Internet. You can read about it in the Aug 2012 Connections.
Fundamentalisms Observed, Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. (Volume I of The Fundamentalism Project, University of Chicago Press, 1991). This very thick volume is the first of a multi-volume series. In this volume, fourteen authors describe the origin and characteristics of fundamentalism as it appears in fourteen different world religions, and the editors discuss what they see as general characteristics. The July 2011 and February 2011 Connections include quotes from the chapter about Christianity in North America, by Nancy T. Ammerman, and from the editors’ introduction.
The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity, by Philip Gulley (HarperOne, 2011) Gulley notes the need for Christians to become better informed about the Bible and their faith, and to focus on what apparently had top priority for Jesus. He observes that by using language that most other people don’t know or speak, theologians often create a gap between themselves and others. The gap does harm by increasing the theological ignorance in our society, thus making people “vulnerable to bad theology and unscrupulous purveyors of self-serving religion.” Barbara expresses her mixed views of this book in the January 2012 Connections.
All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, by Robert Jensen (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, 2009) Jensen tells about growing up in the church, then avoiding it for years, then joining a congregation and being tried for heresy by his denomination. He urges us all to take responsibility for speaking in the prophetic voice in today’s dead “power-over” culture. More about Jensen’s views and experience is in the August 2012 Connections.
Mature Christianity, by William A. Holmes (Resurgence Publishing Corp., 2010) United Methodist pastor Holmes believes there’s a sense in which what we say about God today needs to be a radical departure from what Christians have previously been in the habit of saying. We need to communicate the Christian faith in ways that will make sense to today’s people. Otherwise, we risk seeming merely laughable to today’s come-of-age world. Read more on page 1 of the September 2010 Connections.
The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, 2009) Armstrong says we’re talking far too much about God these days, and what we say is often facile. This interesting book describes ways in which the fundamentalism of very recent centuries has promoted ways of interpreting the Bible and portraying God that would seem foreign and even idolatrous to earlier adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Read a little more about it in the March 2010 and May 2010 issues of Connections. Much better, read the book. It says a lot that Christians don’t hear in church but need to hear.
Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell, by John Shelby Spong (HarperOne, 2009) I found this latest book by Spong very exciting and liberating. I parted from him to some extent toward the end, but on the whole his observations made a lot of sense to me, and it was refreshing to hear someone come right out and say things that I know many Christians think but never hear admitted in church. You can read a very tiny but powerful quote from this book in the box on p. 4 of the October 2009 Connections, but I hope you’ll read the book.
With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe, by Gretta Vosper (Harper Perennial, 2008) Vosper is pastor of a United Church in Toronto and is founder and chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. She writes in an easy, conversational style that doesn’t take a Bible scholar or professional theologian to read. She uses some overly long sentences and occasional pronouns that don’t match their antecedents, which bothered me and will bother some other readers, but what she says is important enough to outweigh that. This book will enrage a lot of churchgoers, because Vosper comes right out and says things that a lot of Christians have thought but haven’t dared to say out loud or maybe even admit to themselves. But it will delight the many who have been thinking similar thoughts but mistakenly assuming they were alone. I believe Christians need to consider her views very seriously. You can read about her book in the June 2009 Connections. New paperback copies of With or Without God don’t seem to be available from U.S. booksellers. However, you can order it at www.chapters.indigo.ca/books (1-800-832-7569) or at www.amazon.ca. Used copies may be available at www.amazon.com.
God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, by John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007 Crossan, a leading historical-Jesus scholar, discusses what the remains of documents, coins, and buildings tell about the Roman Empire, the matrix in which Christianity originated. Crossan also gives his views on how Jesus, Paul, and the other earliest Christians actively resisted the Empire’s all-pervasive effects, and how today’s Christians need to be resisting empire as it appears in today’s world. Read more in the August 2007, September 2007, and October 2007 Connections.
Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, by Joerg Rieger (Fortress, 2007) Rieger, a professor of constructive theology at Perkins School of Theology, describes the influence of the Roman Empire on early Christianity and discusses what this means for Christians today. He also describes how several prominent theologians through the centuries have addressed or failed to address the subject of empire’s influence. The August 2007, September 2007, and October 2007 Connections include quotes from this book.
The Unauthorized Bible: Selected Readings, by Gary Holthaus (BW Press, 2003) This tiny but powerful and beautifully written book is Holthaus’s idea of what selected parts of the Bible might be like if the Bible were written today. The February 2004 Connections describes it. To get a copy of this book, contact Barbara.
Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, by Val Webb (Continuum, 2007) Lay theologian Val Webb observes that deities described in prescientific terms no longer engage people in this age. Thus many have left their religious tradition because they found its portrayals of God unbelievable and their church, synagogue, or mosque offered no other ways to talk about the sacred. Webb includes numerous quotes about God, from many centuries and many traditions. Read more about her thought-provoking book in the February 2008 Connections.
The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne, 2007) The Bible’s Christmas stories, in Matthew and Luke, are much more than sentimental, Borg and Crossan assure readers. These stories are personal but also political. And like the parables of Jesus, they’re subversive, because they invite hearers to see things differently and live differently. Read more about this challenging book in the December 2008 Connections.
The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, and Religious Statement, by David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb Jr., Richard A. Falk, and Catherine Keller (Westminster John Knox, 2006) The four authors of the essays that make up this book—three Christians and a Jew—say we live in a time that is without precedent in two respects. First, one empire—ours—is on the verge of becoming truly global, with no borders. Second, it is on a trajectory toward self-annihilation through human-caused climate change. The authors believe this situation is bad for America, Americans, and the world. They therefore oppose it and advocate what they consider a better alternative. You can read some of their views in the September 2007 and October 2007 Connections.
The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, by John Shelby Spong (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) Spong discusses the ways in which Bible texts condoning violence and portraying God, human beings, and the universe in outdated and misleading ways have led to abusive treatment of our planet and of each other. Read a brief description on page 4 of the February 2006 Connections, and more in the March 2006 issue.
Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile, by John Shelby Spong (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) Retired Episcopal Bishop Spong writes about what he sees as the silent majority of people who find it increasingly hard to remain church members and still be thinking people. He believes that if we want the church to survive, we must start presenting authentic Christian belief in terms that make sense to today’s people. Read more in the March 2001 Connections.
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus J. Borg (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) As in his earlier books, Borg writes here about the earlier way of seeing Christianity and the emerging way. In the May 2004 Connections I discuss what he says about his ability to be nourished by traditional worship, and his feeling that the main purpose of worship is to furnish what Celtic Christianity called “thin places.”
The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink (Galilee/Doubleday & Augsburg Fortress, 1998) This book is essentially a condensed and simplified version of Wink’s series of 3 books about what the King James Version of the Bible calls “the principalities and powers.” It’s a powerful book that I wish all churchgoers would read. I mentioned it briefly in the March 2001 Connections, and in the May 2001 issue I summarized Wink’s description of the 5 main worldviews that he finds represented in Western history.
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, by Marcus J. Borg Like others of Borg’s books, I found this one helpful in seeing how to relate Christian faith to today’s world. See the May 2002 Connections for more.
Falling in Love with Mystery: We Don’t Have To Pretend Anymore (out of print), by Richard F. Elliott, Jr. Elliott, a retired UMC clergyman from South Carolina, writes about the great separation he finds in our culture, between religion and reality. I quote him in the February 2003 and March 2003 Connections. The book is out of print but you can get it, complete and free, from Elliott’s web site.
What You Don’t Have To Believe To Be a Christian (Sunbelt Eakin, 2002), by George M. Ricker Ricker is the retired pastor of University UMC in Austin, Texas. I write about his book in the February 2003 and March 2003 Connections. This book’s short chapters and conversational style make it especially useful for use by lay study groups.
Affirmations of a Dissenter (Abingdon, 2002), by C. Joseph Sprague. Sprague is a retired United Methodist bishop. Read my discussion of his brave book in the April 2003 Connections.
God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), by Jim Wallis Wallis, the evangelical Christian editor of Sojourners magazine, points out that many of the issues we think of as secular rather than religious are the issues to which Jesus and the Old Testament prophets gave the most attention. He urges Christians to become informed and speak up about these issues in ways that he doesn’t see either of the main U.S. political parties doing effectively. Read more about Wallis’s views in the July 2005 Connections.
Stellarella! It’s Saturday!, by Deborah W. Dykes, illustrated by Christina Mattison Ebert-Klaven (Maine Authors Publishing, 2013) John Dominic Crossan calls this children’s book “a beautifully subtle and profoundly intuitive vision in which a young girl’s earliest imagination moves instinctively from a mother who runs the kitchen to a God who runs the world.” Read more about it in the May 2013 Connections.
Christian Discipleship & Church Purpose
Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance (Yale University Press, 2015), by Robin Meyers. A philosophy professor and pastor of an Oklahoma City UCC church urges the church to be a defiant community whose faith involves embodied resistance to whatever in the dominant culture brings death or indignity. A very compelling book. Read quotes from it in the December 2016 Connections.
Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus, by Craig C. Hill (Eerdmans, 2016) The Dean of Perkins School of Theology writes about two subjects that are important but rarely discussed openly in the church, plus how they relate to what New Testament authors say about them. For more, see the Jan 2017 Connections.
Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by Josh Packard & Ashleigh Hope (Group, 2015). Read more about what these authors learned from interviewing people who were done with the church, in the March 2017 Connections.
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2011) Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, reports its findings about why 16-to-29-year-olds are avoiding the church. Being offered only dogmatic, unconvincing answers to their questions is a big reason and one that also motivates many older people to leave or become only minimal, reluctant church participants. Read about this reason and others in the May 2013 Connections.
The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, by Katherine Stewart (Public Affairs, 2012) Journalist Katherine Stewart describes the increasing presence and influence of fundamentalist Christian organizations in U.S. public schools. Their efforts include after-school courses taught by volunteers as Good News Clubs, plus prayer and fellowship groups See You at the Pole and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Stewart also tells about fundamentalist churches that are using public-school buildings as their regular meeting places. Along with urging readers to combat other violations of religious freedom, the March 2013 Connections urges them to read this book to learn what these groups are doing and combat it.
Where My Soul Lives: Being a Christian Outside the Lines, by Ruth H. Judy (St. Johann Press, 2012) Ruth Judy reports on her interviews with self-described “non-traditional” Christians who feel they have been declared outside the lines by traditionalist Christians or the institutional church. Read more about what she heard from them, in the January 2013 Connections.
Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, by Phyllis Tickle (Baker Books, 2012) Tickle reports here on the new forms of Christianity that have been emerging in North America since the late 1800s, part of the most recent of the major upheavals that have been occurring in the Western world about every 500 years. She describes these new forms’ main characteristics and urges Christians to become active architects of what is happening, not just passive observers. You can read more about this book in the December 2012 Connections.
Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement, by Gil Rendle (Abingdon, 2012) Church consultant Gil Rendle urges not only United Methodists but also other mainline church members in North America to help their churches become more like movements, as the early Wesleyan movement and the early church were, rather than more complex, bureaucratic, and rule-oriented. The April 2012 Connections describes Rendle’s concerns and recommendations more fully.
Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, by Richard Beck (Cascade/Wipf and Stock, 2011) In this compelling book, Christian psychology professor Beck describes how the psychological experience of disgust influences our way of balancing purity and compassion, and how overemphasis on purity often motivates Christians to disobey Jesus’s teaching about love. Read more in the September 2011 and November 2011 Connections. More may follow in future issues, too, about how the disgust response influences our positions on important current church and national issues and about the provision that exists in the church but is not well used, for regulating disgust.
The Future of Faith, by Harvey Cox (HarperOne, 2009) The July 2011 Connections quotes what Cox sees as the characteristics of fundamentalism, from this book, but there’s much more to the book, which every church member could gain from reading.
If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus, by Philip Gulley (HarperOne, 2010) Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley suggests ten values that he believes the church would exhibit if it were to focus on what evidently had top priority for Jesus, and he invites readers to appraise their churches in light of these values. Read his list in the May 2011 Connections.
Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches, by Gil Rendle (Abingdon, 2010) Church consultant Gil Rendle compares the situation of today’s church to that of the Israelites whom the Bible describes as traveling through the wilderness in their exodus from slavery in Egypt. He feels that in order to attract newcomers now, the church must focus more on purpose than on relationships and must listen to its “creative deviants.” Read more of his views in the June 2011 Connections.
Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, by Robin R. Meyers (HarperCollins, 2009) UCC pastor and OCU professor Meyers believes we have come to a fork in the road that is Christianity and that we need to take the road less traveled. But he feels that in order to do that, we need to revisit a crucial fork at which Christianity long ago took the wrong road—the creedal road—instead of staying on the experiential road that the earliest followers of Jesus called “The Way.” We’re now so focused on beliefs about Jesus instead of the invitation to follow Jesus, says Meyers, that a new Reformation is needed. It also needs to focus more on politics, meaning the exercise of power and its moral consequences, rather than refusing to “mix religion and politics” as some church members advocate. Read more in the July 2009 Connections.
When Christians Get It Wrong, by Adam Hamilton (Abingdon, 2010) Kansas UMC megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton warns that Christianity may lose an entire generation of young adults if Christians keep “getting it wrong” by acting unchristian, being hostile to other religions, appearing anti-intellectual and anti-science, blaming God for human suffering, and calling homosexuality sin. To read more of Hamilton’s concerns and some questions his views about them raise, see the January 2011 Connections.
Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics, by Adam Hamilton (Abingdon, 2008) UMC pastor Adam Hamilton believes Christianity needs a second reformation—one led by people who can find a strong middle ground. Read more, plus some questions his belief raises, on page 1 of the January 2011 Connections.
Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith Along the Highways of America (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2007) Eric Elnes, now a Nebraska UCC pastor, left Phoenix, Arizona on Easter in 2006, leading a group walking to Washington, DC. Their aim was to foster conversations along the way, about what it means to be progressive Christians in an age of fundamentalism. They found thousands of people who welcomed them and shared their hunger for relationship and conversation, including many “spiritually homeless” people who identified themselves as Christian but felt so alienated from the faith community that they no longer actively participated in any such community. In the January 2008 Connections and at www.CrossWalkAmerica.org you can read more about what Elnes heard on his 2006 walk and about CrossWalk America , the organization he cofounded to host the walk. It is committed to changing the face of Christianity in America to one that recognizably reflects Jesus’s core values of love of God, neighbor, and self—a more compassionate and inclusive face than the one often shown by news media and some of the most visible Christian leaders.
Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness, by Dan R. Dick (Discipleship Resources, 2007) Dan Dick reports here on a study of more than 700 United Methodist congregations in North America. He discusses the 15 main criteria that he found determined each congregation’s vitality. Read more about his findings in the May 2007 Connections.
Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, by Diana Butler Bass (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) American Protestantism scholar Diana Butler Bass describes her findings from a three-year study of fifty vital mainline Protestant congregations. She found them experiencing new vitality through innovative use of ten traditional Christian practices: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty. Read a discussion of two of these in the February 2007 Connections, and of three others in the March 2007 issue. The March issue also includes a discussion of the way in which she contrasts custom and tradition in an earlier book, The Practicing Congregation (Alban Institute, 2004)
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) Taylor, an Episcopal priest, tells why she has stopped being a pastor of local congregations but has not left her relationship with the church. An important motivation for her move was her continuing to see members feeling pressured to believe official doctrine that didn’t match their experience of God or the world. Read more in the October 2006 Connections.
The Dishonest Church, by Jack Good (Rising Star Press, 2003; reprinted by St. Johann Press, 2008) Good, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, bemoans churches’ failure to let their members know what most pastors know about the Bible’s origins, Christian history and doctrine, and recent discoveries about the earthly life of Jesus. For more about this powerful, easy-to-read book, see the February 2006 and March 2006 Connections.
Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, by James W. Fowler (HarperSanFrancisco, 1981/1995) Fowler describes what he sees as six stages of faith, deriving his theory partly from the findings of other scholars who have identified stages of life based on biological growth, development of moral judgment, and other factors. The November 2006 Connections discusses how each of these stages may need some different ingredients that the church needs to provide, especially in worship services.
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris (W.W. Norton, 2004) Harris, a neuroscientist who has extensively studied Eastern and Western religions and spiritual disciplines, believes our technical advances in weapons have made our religious differences dangerous for our survival, and he finds that unlike other areas of life, in religion we require no evidence to support our beliefs. On page 1 of the December 2005 Connections you can read a brief account of his main points.
Conflict and Communion: Reconciliation and Restorative Justice at Christ’s Table, Thomas W. Porter, ed. (Discipleship Resources, 2006) This is a collection of essays about conflict resolution and restorative justice, which the authors distinguish from retributive justice. The connection between Holy Communion and conflict resolution is much less apparent to me than to these authors, and some of them use more church jargon than I prefer to read, but the book raises very important questions and introduces readers to useful methods of conflict resolution that I was glad to have brought to mind. Read more about the book’s content and some questions and implications it raised for me, in the July 2005 Connections.
Reclaiming the Church: Where the Mainline Church Went Wrong and What to Do About It, by John B. Cobb, Jr. (Westminster John Knox, 1977) Cobb believes mainline churches have become marginal. Read why, and what he suggests we need to do about it, in the July 2004 Connections.
Dying Church, Living God: A Call to Begin Again, by Chuck Meyer (Northstone Publishing, 2000) Meyer, who died in a 2000 car wreck, was an Episcopal clergyman in Austin, Texas. His book is funny, and some Christians will probably consider it unacceptably irreverent. “If you like the status quo, get all gushy over the Atonement and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” says Meyer, “and you think the Church is the one thing that will never change,” this book is likely to make you angry. However, it says some things I believe churchgoers need to hear and think about. Its format and style would make it ideal for a church group to read together and discuss. For more about it, see the March 2001 Connections.
Growing Spiritual Redwoods, by William M. Easum and Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon, 1997) Church observers don’t all agree with all of Easum and Bandy’s conclusions (or with anyone else’s, of course) about what we need to be doing, but these authors’ observations about how today’s church and world differ from yesterday’s, and thus about what this means for whether people are likely to respond to what we offer, seem very important for all church members to be aware of. I could give this book only a quick mention in the August 1999 Connections, but it’s easy reading and definitely worth it.
Kicking Habits: Welcome Relief for Addicted Churches, by Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon, 1997) This is a book whose message I believe every church member needs to hear and help the church to act on. The first step we need to take if we want to start thriving, in Bandy’s view, is admitting that many of our familiar church practices are not required by God. Then, he recommends, we need to use a process deliberately designed to reveal new ways in which God may be calling us to be the church. The process would feature prayer, open conversation within the church and outside of it, and focusing on scriptures that tell about people receiving new insights and callings from God. More about the book is in the April 1999 Connections.
Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs: Saints and Their Stories, by James C. Howell (Upper Room Books, 1999) Howell’s discussion of the church’s misfits was what I found most interesting about this book, maybe because I’m a misfit and not a saint or a martyr. Read about the God-inspired, creative oddballs who threaten the church’s status quo, in the February 2000 Connections.
Waking to God’s Dream: Spiritual Leadership and Church Renewal, by Dick Wills (Abingdon, 1999) After years of trying to persuade God to bless his good ideas, says United Methodist pastor Dick Wills (now a UMC bishop), he finally saw that God wanted him to simply join God in what God was choosing to bless. In this thought-provoking book, Wills describes how he tries to give more attention to the Holy Spirit than to the institutional church system, while still being in the system. More from his book is in the July 2001 Connections.
Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History, by Riley B. Case (Abingdon, 2004) Riley Case, an Indiana United Methodist clergyman and longtime activist in the unofficial Good News movement within the UMC, writes about the history of that movement and what he sees as the UMC’s need to return to the populist evangelicalism of early American Methodism in order to renew the church and reach today’s people as effectively as early Methodism reached the people of its day. See the January 2005 Connections for more about his book.
The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, by Jeffrey Sachs (Random House, 2011) Macroeconomist Jeffrey Sachs believes a moral crisis is at the root of America’s economic crisis. He sees its cause as the decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite. Read more about his book in the January 2012 Connections.
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (Penguin Books, 2012). Historian and journalist Colin Woodard explains that the North American continent was originally colonized by 11 different “nations” — cultural groups whose influence is still apparent today. Read more about this interesting book in the August 2014 Connections. Buy the book online at this link. Visit Colin Woodard’s weblog, and his webpage.
The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle (BakerBooks, 2008) Phyllis Tickle observes that “holy rummage sales” have happened about every 500 years throughout Christian history but that “no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions.” She describes how spirituality, corporeality, and morality have changed through Christian history, and what their current forms may mean for us. You can read more about this interesting book on p. 4 of the August 2009 Connections.
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, by Andrew J. Bacevich (Henry Holt, 2008) Bacevich is a retired U.S. Army colonel who is now a professor of international relations. He believes freedom is the altar at which American worship, whatever their nominal religious persuasion. But the kind of freedom we worship, he observes, is largely self-indulgence and consumption. Our appetites and expectations have grown beyond the capacity of our economy to satisfy, he says, yet we feel entitled to have them satisfied and we expect the world to accommodate our way of life. More about this thought-provoking book is in the August 2009 Connections.
Discontinuity and Hope: Radical Change and the Path to the Future, by Lyle Schaller (Abingdon, 1999) Schaller sees signs of hope in the changes that some church members see as signs of collapse. Find out why in the April 2001 Connections.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999) Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times and was formerly its bureau chief in Beirut and Jerusalem. He is writing about the tension he currently sees, between the ancient forces of culture, geography, tradition, and community, and the new system of globalization that has integrated capital, technology, and information across national borders and created a single global market. He believes that institutions and individuals who keep acting as if today’s global forces don’t exist have little hope of continuing to play significant roles in the world. I’m afraid a lot of our churches are in that category, so I believe we need to give serious consideration to the views he and others are expressing about this subject, whether or not we agree with them. See the October 1999 Connections for more.
Re-Discovering the Sacred: Spirituality in America, by Phyllis Tickle (Crossroad, 1995) Here the longtime Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly writes about the effects of what she calls recent trends toward do-it-yourself spirituality. See the page-one box in the January 1998 Connections.
Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, by Tom Beaudoin (Jossey-Bass, 1998) This book is especially helpful because its author is a member of the generation he’s writing about. A brief excerpt is at the end of the October 1998 Connections.
Personality Type in Congregations: How to Work with Others More Effectively, by Lynne M. Baab (Alban Institute, 1998) Some of us want silence in worship but others hate it. Some of us want to hug and talk to those around us in worship services, but including that makes others of us want to stay home. Some want to know the concrete details of day-to-day church operations, but others focus more on long-range visions and goals. Some want harmony at any cost, but others want to analyze and talk about all sides of issues even if it reveals strong disagreement. Baab reminds us how important it is to take these differences into account in planning church activities and in reacting to other members’ preferences. See the box on page 1 of the September 1999 Connections for a little more. Much better, read this book or others on similar topics.
Discover Your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth, by Corinne Ware (Alban Institute, 1995) If you’re turned off by theological terms like apophatic and kataphatic you probably won’t like this book, but I found it quite interesting, and its message is important. UMC pastor Steve Langford’s way of covering the same subject, which I describe in the September 1999 Connections, uses language that more church members will relate to. For other thoughts about how personality or temperament types influence people’s different ways of seeing and describing God, see also the February 2005 Connections for Huston Smith’s views as expressed in the book The Way Things Are, and the January 2005 issue for its discussion of the book Evangelical and Methodist. Also, see the October 2005 Connections for a discussion of how personality differences influence what kind of worship services help different people experience and respond to God’s presence.
Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History, by Riley B. Case (Abingdon, 2004) Case, a leading conservative voice in the UMC, wants it to recover what he sees as the Wesleyan emphasis on reaching the common people and on changing hearts. See the January 2005 Connections.
Methodist and Radical: Rejuvenating a Tradition (Abingdon, 2003), Joerg Rieger and John J. Vincent, editors The church is best shaped and transformed not from the top down but from the bottom up, by perspectives from the margins of society, and the margins are often where God is at work. That’s the view Methodist theologians Joerg Rieger and John J. Vincent and other Methodists from around the world present in this provocative book. Read more about it in the August 2004 Connections.
Questions for the Twenty-First Century Church, Russell E. Richey, William B. Lawrence, and Dennis M. Campbell, editors (Volume 4 in the series United Methodism and American Culture; Abingdon, 1999) I’ve found all four books in this series interesting. (The others are listed above and below.) A few of their articles are a bit tedious unless you like statistics and details of history better than I do, but I found nearly all of the articles in Questions for the Twenty-First Century Church very interesting, challenging, and significant. I wish every United Methodist would read it. Especially important and especially readable, in my view, are the articles in it by Thomas E. Boomershine and M. Garlinda Burton, about the need to communicate through today’s media and to consider the world rather than church insiders our main audience. In the page-one boxes of the June 1999 and May 1999 issues I mention some of Burton’s main points, and the body of the June 1999 issue covers a Boomershine talk whose contents were essentially the same as the contents of his article.
The People(s) Called Methodist: Forms and Reforms of Their Life, William B. Lawrence, Dennis M. Campbell, and Russell E. Richey, editors (Volume 2 in United Methodism and American Culture; Abingdon, 1998) These two books will probably have more interest for United Methodists who participate directly in the UMC organizational system of appointments, conferences, and such, than for those whose main or only involvement is as a lay member of a local congregation. However, what these books are saying is important for all United Methodists, as what happens in the system affects every congregation and every member whether they realize it or not. In the July 1998 Connections I quoted briefly from these two books along with Richey’s Early American Methodism (Indiana University Press, 1991) and The Methodist Conference in America (Kingswood/Abingdon, 1996). In the July 1998 Connections, about John Wesley’s view of Christian conference and the help it might offer in resolving controversial issues in today’s church, I also mentioned these books I had found informative.
A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, by Rueben P. Job (Abingdon, 1997) Unity, Liberty and Charity: Building Bridges Under Icy Waters, Donald E. Messer and William J. Abraham, editors (Abingdon, 1996)
Wesley and the People Called Methodists, by Richard P. Heitzenrater (Abingdon, 1995) Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation, by W. Stephen Gunter, Scott J. Jones, Ted A. Campbell, Rebekah L. Miles, and Randy L. Maddox (Abingdon, 1997)
Stepping Out with the Sacred: Human Attempts to Engage the Divine, by Val Webb (Continuum, 2010) In this book, Webb explains, “I roam across religious traditions, listening for examples and explanations of how people have engaged the sacred.” She emphasizes the fact that she leaves open the question of whether or not there is Something to engage, and if so, whether engaging it is possible. Read more in the January 2012 Connections.
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, 2006) Armstrong writes about the insights of the Axial Age, in which “the great world traditions that have continued to nourish humanity came into being: Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece.” She believes we have diluted our religions’ most valuable insights today and replaced them with a religiosity that too often harms rather than helps. Read about these timeless insights in the July 2007 Connections, and see whether you think today’s Christians need to put more emphasis on them.
A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, by Diana L. Eck (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) Eck, a United Methodist who heads Harvard’s “Pluralism Project,” tells how membership in non-Christian religions has increased in the U.S. in recent decades, and explains her view that this change is the biggest challenge today’s church faces. The January 2002 Connections reviews the key points of Eck’s book, and the October 2001 issue refers briefly to Eck’s findings.
Relating to People of Other Religions: What Every Christian Needs to Know, by M. Thomas Thangaraj (Abingdon, 1997) Thangaraj is a Christian who grew up in India among Hindus and now teaches at Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary. He reminds readers of the many scriptures that refer to the variety God has created. His book has an especially helpful discussion of what he considers the most common ways in which Christians regard other religions. This book is easy reading and would be a good basis for talking about the subject in a church group. Read more about it in the December 2001 Connections.
The World’s Religions, by Huston Smith (HarperSanFrancisco, 1986) The December 2001 Connections quotes from this classic book.
The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life, edited and with a preface by Phil Cousineau (University of California Press, 2003) In this collection of essays by Smith and interviews with him, taken from various points in his long career, he speaks about his understanding of what religion is—”the search for the Real, and the effort to approximate one’s life to it.” He discusses the different ways in which people understand and describe the Absolute, and he laments the influence of what he calls “scientism” on modern thinking. Read some of Smith’s views on these subjects in the February 2005 Connections.
The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus (Jossey-Bass, 2012) Oklahoma UCC pastor Robin Meyers reminds us that the Roman Empire saw Jesus as a dangerous subversive amd the earliest church was like an underground movement, unlike what today’s church has become. Read about Meyers’s book in the March 2002 Connections.
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, by Cynthia Bourgeault (Shambala, 2010) Bourgeault points out how Christians have been misled by the “master story” that is in their blood, causing them to overlook the unique role played by Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus. Read more in the August 2011 Connections.
Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus, by Stephen J. Patterson (Fortress, 2004) In the view of Stephen J. Patterson, a historical-Jesus scholar, Jesus’s life is what makes his death and resurrection important. “To celebrate his death apart from the cause for which he lived,” says Patterson, “would be ridiculous and meaningless. Yet that is what we have done for the most part.” Read how Patterson sees early Christianity regarding Jesus as victim, martyr, and sacrifice, in the April 2009 Connections.
The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. (Doubleday/Three Leaves, 2006) Hendricks is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a professor at New York Theological Seminary, and past president of the oldest African American theological institution in the U.S. This is a very compelling book, and it’s in a welcome non-academic style. It says some things I think the church and all of us who are Christians need to take to heart. Read about some of these in the March 2008 and April 2008 Connections.
The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperSanFrancisco 2006) I refer to this eye-opening book in the August 2007 Connections in giving examples of how Jesus actively opposed the Roman Empire.
The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar, feels that if we ignore Jesus’s Jewishness and his Roman Empire setting, we miss the challenge in much of what we read in the gospels. Read more of her views in the October 2007 Connections.
Icons of American Protestantism: The Art of Warner Sallman, David Morgan, editor (Yale University Press, 1996) – July 1999 Connections.
Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images, by David Morgan (University of California Press, 1998) – August 1999 Connections These two books of David Morgan, a Lutheran and chairperson of the art department of Valparaiso University, seem written mainly for an academic audience, but I found them fascinating. Morgan reveals the aggressive marketing that caused Sallman’s painting Head of Christ, which is in many of our church buildings as well as our heads, to become accepted by many Christians as if it were an actual photo of Jesus. These books are eye-openers about why visual images seem essential to many Christians but turn many others off. The books also make important points about our dangerous tendency to picture Jesus as Anglo-American.
Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice (Labor Institute Press, 2015-16), by Les Leopold. Thought-provoking information and opinions by a labor activist. Read about it in the July 2017 Connections.
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2016), by Thomas L. Friedman. .In this extremely informative and thought-provoking book, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Friedman writes about the dislocation he sees happening in the U.S., caused by technology, globalization, and climate change. Read more in the December 2016 Connections.
When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys, Charles W. Hedrick, editor (Polebridge Press, 2008) This interesting book is made up of scholars’ essays describing their personal spiritual journeys that have led them to their present beliefs and occupations. At the end of the October 2009 Connections you can read quotes from 3 of the essays.
In Search of Belief, by Joan Chittister (Liguori, 1999/2006) In discussing what the Apostles’ Creed means today, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister comments on what saying “I believe” means for her. Read more in the May 2010 Connections.
Radical Theology, by Don Cupitt (Polebridge Press, 2006) Read a provocative quote from this provocative book in the box on p. 4 of the October 2009 Connections.
Travel as a Political Act, by Rick Steves (Nation Books, 2009) This book by a well-known travel-guidebook writer and host of travelogues on PBS TV is essentially an inspiring spiritual autobiography, in addition to being an impassioned plea to Americans to open their eyes, minds, and hearts and actively promote justice. Steves urges Americans to go deliberately beyond their mental, emotional, cultural, and religious comfort zones, whether by traveling physically or by looking outside their familiar home settings in other ways. The book includes reliable, easy-to-read information and discussion about liberation theology, economic-justice issues, Islam, and how empire shows up in today’s world, but it also has beautiful color photos on almost every page. Read more in the August 2009 Connections.
Seed Pods and Periscopes: Stories and Reflections About Living Deeply and Living Well, by Chandler W. Gilbert (privately published, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2008) Gilbert is a retired United Church of Christ minister who was born in China to Congregational missionaries, moved to the U.S. as a teenager, and now lives in New Hampshire. He choose his book’s title, he says, because seed pods hold seeds of new life and periscopes let the user see things from a different perspective than might otherwise be available. The part of his book that I especially liked was its fourth and final section, “Living with Questions.” That part had me saying “Yes, yes!” all the way through it. In the box on page 1 of the April 2009 Connections, you can read a few quotes from what I liked so well.
In Times Like These: How We Pray, by Malcolm Boyd and J. Jon Bruno (Church Publishing, 2005) I found this book about prayer, by two Episcopal priests, a welcome change from most other books I come across on this subject. It’s a collection of pieces by a diverse group of authors, describing the wide variety of ways in which they experience prayer. Read about it in the January 2006 Connections.
The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart, by Cynthia Bourgeault (Jossey-Bass, 2003) Bourgeault, an Episcopal clergywoman, writes about the Wisdom tradition. It has been part of all major religions, including Christianity, since their beginnings, but is unknown to many Christians. She observes that this tradition’s “nuts and bolts of transformation” are essentially the same in all religions: surrender, detachment, compassion, and forgiveness. Read more about this ancient tradition, its vision of God and the world, and its potentially life-transforming spiritual practices, in the May 2005 Connections.
Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, by Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster John Knox, 2005) Thompson, an ordained Presbyterian minister, gives helpful guidance for traditional spiritual practices: spiritual reading, various forms of prayer, corporate worship, fasting, self-examination and confession, spiritual direction, and hospitality. I especially appreciated her comments about times when we find corporate worship a source of frustration rather than fulfillment. I included a brief mention of this book on page 1 of the May 2005 Connections.
Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool, by Lauren Artress (Riverhead Books, 1995) This intriguing book tells about a practice used in Christianity and other religions for centuries, which has been rediscovered by many Christians as a way of what Artress, an Episcopal clergywoman, calls “body prayer.” Read more about it in the September 2003 Connections.
In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery, by M. Scott Peck (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, 1995) Through his account of a trip he and his wife made to ancient sites in Britain, Peck tells readers what he has learned about himself and his faith. Some of his descriptions of physical changes that come with aging are a little too explicit for my taste, but they also reassured me that I’m not alone in experiencing such changes and that life can go on in spite of them. As a frequent traveler I especially appreciated his many observations about travel and its relation to the spiritual journey. Because I happen to be the same personality type as Peck, my annoyance at his apparent arrogance and self-absorption kept reminding me to beware of similar tendencies in myself. All in all, I found this a fascinating look at the searches and journeys, physical and spiritual, that I believe are essential parts of growing as a Christian. For Peck’s thoughts about being called, see the box on page 1 of the May 2000 Connections.
The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau (Conari Press, 1998) Cousineau sees pilgrimage as a powerful metaphor for “any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler.” I found his book intriguing as I thought about both the spiritual journey and the many geographical ones I’ve taken. You’ll find more on this subject in the January 2001 Connections.
Growing Up Religious: Christians and Jews and Their Journeys of Faith, by Robert Wuthnow (Beacon Press, 1999) Wuthnow, director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, tells what he observed from interviewing so-called ordinary people about their religious beliefs and practices. Everyday practices in homes, he finds, have much more influence than what happens in church or what religious leaders say. Ways in which families observe holidays–especially Christmas–have surprisingly strong influence. If he’s right, what does this say about our Christmas customs? Read about it in the December 1999 Connections.
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead/Penguin Putnam, 1998) Norris, a poet and a Presbyterian laywoman, is a Baby Boomer who grew up active in the church, dropped out and felt quite turned off by it for years, then returned to very active participation. I’ve quoted from this book in the February 1999 and November 1998 Connections.
Two Ways of Praying, by Paul Bradshaw (Abingdon, 1995) I found Bradshaw’s discussion of the differences between what he calls cathedral prayer and monastic prayer helpful and interesting. See the January 1999 Connections.
Uncommon Decency, by Richard Mouw (InterVarsity, 1992) Here the president of Fuller Seminary writes about getting along together. In the August 1998 Connections I quoted his comments about priestly and prophetic roles.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2000) A Quaker tells how his view of the Quaker saying “Let your life speak” has changed over the course of his life. He urges us to listen for what God wants us to make of our lives, rather than to try to copy anyone else or to listen to society’s call. More of his views are in the May 2000 Connections.
Evensong, by Gail Godwin (Ballantine, 1999) This novel about an Episcopal clergy couple looks at the subjects of God’s call and church life in a thought-provoking way while keeping the reader engrossed in its plot. I’ve quoted one of its characters in the May 2000 Connections.
Finding Our Voices: Women, Wisdom, and Faith (Crossroad, 1997), Patricia O’Connell Killen This book doesn’t apply only to women, but to anyone longing for God but not being fed by the Christian heritage as they find it in their church. Killen calls this “standing by a river, dying of thirst,” which I used as the theme of the November 2002 Connections.
The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling (Westminster John Knox, 2003) and Coping with Your Anger: A Christian Guide (Westminster, 1983), by Andrew D. Lester The first of these 2 books is designed mainly for counselors, but it includes some useful pointers for angry people too. The second book focuses on ways to deal with one’s own anger. Suggestions from both of them are in the June 2003 and July 2003 Connections.
Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West, by Gary Holthaus (University of Arizona Press, 1997) At first glance this stunning book of personal essays seems to be only an account of travels in the western U.S., the people the author encountered there, and the author’s deep concern for the natural environment. But it’s about much more. Holthaus gives readers a compelling account not only of geographical travels and natural beauty, but also of his spiritual journey, in a way that is always beautiful but often wrenching as well. An unforgettable book for me. Read more about it in the August 2003 Connections.
Grace: A Memoir, by Mary Cartledgehayes (Crown, 2003) Cartledgehayes, a United Methodist clergywoman, tells how she came to realize her call to ordained ministry and describes her experiences with the ordination process, seminary, her first pastorate, and the challenges she faced as a woman in a field where many men and other congregation members thought women didn’t belong. She uses language and frankly describes feelings and experiences that some church members will consider taboo for clergy, but her very well written book is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time. See the August 2003 Connections.
Wrestling with God, by Rick Diamond (Relevant Books, 2003) In this intriguing book, Diamond speaks mainly to non-churchgoers, especially to those in younger-than-baby-boom generations, but he expertly describes the Christian spiritual journey in a way that readers of all ages will find unusually potent. I was distracted by his use of capitalized masculine pronouns to refer to God throughout the book, but the book’s many valuable features far outweigh this drawback. For more, see the August 2003 Connections.
In Defense of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure, by Val Webb (Chalice, 1995) I found this book by a lay theologian very helpful in its presentation of process theology, and very reassuring in its description of the spirals, nudges, and uncertainties of the spiritual journey. I say more about it in the August 2003 Connections.
Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, by Richard Rohr (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001) We often replace real faith with religious group-identity, says Rohr, turning Christianity into reactive tribalism. And the cross has become our company logo instead of something we’re transformed by. Read more about Rohr’s book in the August 2003 Connections.
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath (Jossey-Bass, 1999) This book is mostly too corporation-oriented and mega-church-oriented for my taste, but I found its discussion of vulnerability quite pertinent to the spiritual journey, and very thought-provoking. You’ll find a little more about this in the August 2003 Connections.
Using spiritual discernment for church decision-making Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church, by Luke Timothy Johnson (Abingdon, 1996) Johnson, a former Roman Catholic monk and priest who was a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology when he wrote, feels that the church’s claim to be a community of faith often isn’t reflected in its actual communal life. Our decision-making, Johnson says, shows more about what we really believe than do our official rules, rituals, or public statements. Read more in the April 2008 Connections.
Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen (Upper Room Books, 1997) Morris and Olsen give specific suggestions for practicing discernment in church meetings. “People are weary,” these authors find, “from church business as usual, from church gatherings that do not connect with the deeper meanings of their life and faith.” See the March 2008 Connections for more.
Claiming All Things for God: Prayer, Discernment, and Ritual for Social Change, by George D. McClain (Abingdon, 1998) McClain, the former director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, gives some helpful pointers about using discernment in meetings. See the box on page one of the September 1998 Connections.
Faith-Based War: From 9/11 to Catastrophic Success in Iraq, by T. Walter Herbert (Equinox Press, 2009) Herbert, a university professor and United Methodist layman, asks Americans to look honestly at whether our Christian political leaders’ interpretations of the Christian message have brought peace to our nation and the world. He finds that from early America until now, leaders have often practiced an imperialist militarism that is the opposite of what true Christianity teaches. Read more about his views in the January 2010 Connections.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges (Anchor/Random House, 2002) Hedges is a seminary graduate and award-winning journalist who has covered numerous recent wars. I wish his analysis of the meaning and characteristics of war were being discussed in all churches. Read more about this thought-provoking book in the May 2008 Connections.
War: A Primer for Christians, by Joseph L. Allen (SMU Press, 1991/2001) As I said in the March 2002 Connections, this book by a professor of Christian ethics gives a good summary of the just-war tradition and other ways in which conscientious Christians have responded to war.
Worship Come to Its Senses, by Don E. Saliers (Abingdon, 1996) Saliers, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist Seminary, finds that awe, delight, truthfulness, and hope are too often missing from our worship and thus need to be restored. For more about this book, see the March 1999 Connections.
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture, by Marva J. Dawn (Eerdmans, 1995) Some comments about this book are in the February 1999 Connections.