Here's a list of what I've been reading during 2005:
An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God had in Mind - Erwin R. McManus
McManus, 'futurist' and self-proclaimed cultural architect, focuses heavily on where the church in America is today... and where it could/should be going. He does a masterful job of weaving a vision of the church becoming the cultural-influencer that it once was. A must-read for anyone who cares at all about being all that God has called us to be.
Seizing Your Divine Moment - Erwin R. McManus
McManus uses the Old Testament story of Jonathan (King Saul's son) to illustrate how we can make the most of God's call on our lives and how to seize those divine, defining moments. He cautions readers that in order to live life to the fullest, we must take risks, and that being in God's will is inherently risky. It certainly does not protect us from harm or difficulty. McManus contrasts the characters of Jonathan and Saul to illustrate the differences between living a life of purpose and adventure, and living one of apathy and missed opportunity. He insists that God orchestrates divine opportunities for us to engage in His big-picture plan(s). READ THIS BOOK!
Buck Naked Faith: A Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity - Eric Sandras
While this is not a new approach to authentic Christianity, this is a refreshing exercise in brutal honesty. Sandras lays bare his own personal failures with intense openness. A simple, straight-forward read that invites us to face our own areas of failure, fear, apathy and weakness with the hope and promise of restoration and healing.
a Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren
McLaren celebrates the strengths of many traditions in the church (and beyond), exploring how they can combine to provide a "generous orthodoxy." In typical fashion, Brian shakes things up a bit, attempting to create a safe place for questions, doubt and challenges. He basically addresses the way that denominational/religious hair-splitting challenges the true message of Jesus, and how he would incorporate the best parts of each faith/denomination in his more inclusive orthodoxy. Definitely worth the read... if for no other reason, than the questions it raises and points it addresses.
Non-Fiction - Chuck Palahniuk
This is a collection of true, short stories as experienced by Palahniuk himself. Containing some of the most oddly disturbing accounts, Palahniuk shares intimately and honestly as he invites us into his (at times) dark world and gives a glimpse of what inspires his fiction (Fight Club, Lullaby, Haunted). He shares encounters with Marilyn Manson, accounts of his own experimentation with steroids, and the horrific witnessing of his own father's brutal murder at the hands of a white supremacist. Palahniuk's world is definitely different than yours and mine, and to be honest, this is not a read for the faint of heart.
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Spirituality - Donald Miller
The book tells the tail of Miller's own spiritual journey - how he nearly lost his faith, his position on progressive politics and how Jesus has become relevant in his own spiritual walk. Miller offers his postmodern take on the current evangelical presentation of the Gospel. He writes simply and at times, self-indulgently, but has a very personally revealing approach rather than profoundly insightful. I think his simplicity is intentional, often coming across as remedial, but we get glimpses of his gifted writing prowess. His honesty with the reader is powerful and it seems to lend itself to his own distrust of the institutional church. I believe he's writing primarily to people intrigued or experimenting with the idea of faith, but it's a rich read even for those of us already on a spiritual journey with God. READ THIS!
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - Jared Diamond
I've had this book for about four years and only just read it. It's a VERY in depth look at the development of human societies presented from the biologist's approach: examining geography, demography and ecology. Diamond objectively looks at human history from every continent since the Ice Age - from an evolutionary perspective. It's a fascinating read, though it provides more statistical data and in depth review than most readers care to examine. If interested, I have been informed that a documentary-style version is coming available on TV and it may be easier to digest if watched.
The Barbarian Way - Erwin R. McManus
McManus invites readers to experience their faith in a 'barbaric' way, rather than as a 'civilized Christian.' This is a call to escape 'civilized' Christianity and become the authentic, untamed, powerful Christians that Jesus called us to be. There is not much new to McManus' writings if you've read his other works (Seizing Your Divine Moment, An Unstoppable Force). In and age of fearful, stagnant Christianity, this is a refreshing reminder that Christ called us to a risky, adventurous faith. It's a short, but powerful read and a great introduction to McManus' poignant message of reckless faith.
Searching For God Knows What - Donald Miller
In his follow up to 'Blue Like Jazz,' Miller continues his long conversation about life. This book doesn't exactly have a point as much as it explains his (somewhat) eccentric theories on the Christian faith/life. His strongest statement addresses the way evangelical Christianity has been 'sold' or presented. He questions the technique of breaking down salvation into a formula (or bullet points). He states, rather, that Christianity is relationship (not exactly ground-breaking material), and that evangelism should encompass biblical stories rather than 'the steps to salvation.' He also addresses the issue of redemption, and every person's desire for it. He explains that people seek this redemption through relationships, success, religion, status and escape, though only that true redemption comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Initially, I thought that I liked this book better than 'Jazz,' but upon further reflection, I think that I appreciate the story-telling and simplicity of his first book better.
Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? - Ronald J. Sider
Like his first and most notable book, 'Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,' Sider charges Christians to start walking their talk. The primary question this book raises is: Why aren't Christians living any differently than their non-Christian counterparts? Sider uses the first chapter to statistically breakdown the similarities between the Christian and non-Christian communities - stating that there are no differences in divorce rates, premarital sex, domestic violence and use of pornography - and citing that Christians are more likely to have racist views than others. He (again) addresses the issue of money, stating that, although western Christians are wealthier than any Christians in history, they are giving less and less to the poor, even though their incomes have increased. Sider offers some compelling and genuine responses to these issues by challenging the church to regain its ability to hold Christians accountable and for Christians to stop serving mammon (money) as its driving force. The second part of the book borrows Dietrich Bonhoeffer's concept of 'cheap grace,' which has grossly misled the church. This is a short and easy read and makes a powerful call to start living the life we claim to live. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Atonement for a 'Sinless' Society - Alan Mann
This book raises some valid questions to any and all people ministering in a postmodern context. This book is about the stories of the postmodern, post-industrialized, post-Christian 'sinless' self, and that of the atonement of Christ as illustrated in the Gospels. Mann addresses the difficulty in relating a story based on sin and guilt as meaningful to a society that no longer recognizes 'sin' as a viable, relevant concept. Mann suggests that if the Bible is re-read in light of this context, it can again speak meaningfully and sufficiently to a 'sinless' society.
Life After God - Douglas Coupland
Canadian author, Douglas Coupland, writes to the young, confused, and disenchanted members who have come to characterize themselves as 'Generation X' (a title of another of his books). He addresses this demographic as "the first generation raised without religion." What he's really addressing is the concept that all of humanity is born with the need to believe in something - God, religion, politics, art -- and how people respond to the world of materialism. Don't let the title of the book disuade you from reading it. It only vaguely has anything to do with the stories within. Only at the end of one of the short stories contained does the narrator conclude, "My secret is that I need God." Coupland doesn't try to over-analyze or explain this statement, he simply states it and lets it marinate. This was a facinating read, written in an unorthodox style, with little doodles and drawings splintered throughout (kind of like 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,' by Mark Haddon, if you're familiar).