Now that 2019 has concluded, we here at Missio Alliance wanted to offer our own take on our favorite reads from the past year that we believe to be particularly relevant for church leaders. Most of the books on this list were published in 2019, although there were also a couple of mentions of books that appeared in the latter half of 2018. Without further ado, here are some of the books that caught the eye of our staff and writing team in 2019, and books to look for by the Missio community coming out in 2020!
Whole and Reconciled by Al Tizon
I reviewed this book earlier this year, but it’s worth mentioning again. Tizon envisions Christian mission as reconciliation and, as such, provokes us to imagine how we participate with God in putting the world back together again. This is a comprehensive vision which has room for reconciliation between people, groups, and with the creation itself. I was especially challenged by the last two chapters in which Tizon calls us, agents of reconciliation, to live as peacemakers in a world that still longs for shalom.
I Bring the Voices of My People by Chanequa Walker-Barnes
I really wish this book had been written ten years ago, when we were planting our church. Walker-Barnes interrogates typical models of racial reconciliation in churches and finds that they often focus on the feelings of white members while leaving the underlying structures of racial injustice undisturbed. But this book is more than a critique; it also offers direction toward a more pointed form of reconciliation ministry in which the hermeneutics of women of color are prioritized, the sins of white supremacy are explicitly repented of, and reconciliation includes material justice.
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Tisby offers a clear and necessary history that reveals how complicit the (white) American church has been in bolstering the white supremacism of our nation for centuries. This is a truth that must be faced if there is to be any hope of healing and salvation for those who follow Jesus. The Color of Compromise is a necessary read for discipleship and for witness.
Reading Romans Backwards by Scot McKnight
McKnight helps us recover an ecclesial reading of Romans, highlighting the significance of its context so that we might better understand the letter’s message about power and privilege that is still needed for today. Read alongside other seminal Romans commentaries, McKnight’s work will contribute to a fuller understanding to this much-studied epistle.
The Second Mountain by David Brooks
Renowned columnist and pundit David Brooks wrote a book on developing character a few years ago, only to have his own life fall apart shortly afterward. In The Second Mountain, he revisits this quest by trying to understand what makes for a meaningful life, especially in light of our post-sexual revolution, tribalistic, hyper-connected modern world. Brooks considers himself more of a teacher, and the book reads as a narrative that weaves together a curriculum from the great spiritual formation writers of the Judeo-Christian tradition such as Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, and Victor Frankl.
Deep Roots, Wild Branches by Michael Beck
As society has shifted, local churches are no longer the center of the community. Beck contends that congregations need to think of themselves as a base for sending out missionaries who can form new communities of Jesus in the varying contexts of everyday life. More than just theory, Beck weaves in examples from his church in Florida, a “blended ecology” including a traditional liturgical expression at a church building, as well as expressions meeting in tattoo parlors, dog parks and burrito joints. Deep Roots, Wild Branches will give you a clear vision for a model of church that fits today’s culture.
Trinity Without Hierarchy by Michael Bird and Scott Harrower, eds.
Eternal Functional Subordination within the Trinity became a controversial issue within certain sectors of evangelical theology the past decade. This ‘belief’ has implications for how we think about relations of all types, but specifically for how we think the relations of female to male within marriage and in the church. I believe hierarchy within the Trinity is a heresy and the implications for this heresy have been damaging within certain sectors of the American church. I think now, more than ever, we need to understand the social dynamic of mutuality. We need to understand how submitting one to another in a relation of mutuality is not hierarchy. We need to understand this in the Trinity and how the Godhead models it. Read Bird’s essay and introduction. And then select essays as they pique your interest. It will be worth your time.
Entrepreneurial Church Planting by Fredrick J. Long and W. Jay Moon
This is a great book that discusses both theologically and practically the need to stretch our mindset of what IS church and ways to form church, focusing on the power of merging of the marketplace and what we think of as church. I appreciate that the authors take a deep theological approach to this topic too, as well as give some examples of development and questions to explore. Church planting in the 2020s is going to look much different than the 2010s.
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
This is a memoir that really gets at the root of the cultural, political, and religious climate of rural America. The story unravels through a young man’s growing up in such a culture where people are “Christian” but don’t go to church, family honor and loyalty is everything, and victimization is a default response to misfortune. This book gave me a partial cultural explanation of the Christian side of the question “how could that happen?” of the election of 2016 and the ministry context outside cities of the majority of the US.
That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart
Hart’s prose and proposal is provocative and this book ignited theological discussions around salvation and hell. Many will not be convinced by Hart’s argument but it articulates the concepts and ideas many churches wrestle with. If you are in the local church this topic is germane and important for pastoral ministry.
Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Cruciformity In The Church by Scot McKnight
McKnight bridges his theological wisdom with an exploration into the role and calling of pastors. Using the Apostle Paul’s vision of Christoformity this book explores the culture that is necessary for a healthy church. This book touches on the practical elements of church life as well as the necessary elements for a Pauline pastoral theology. As pastors look for wisdom to lead, teach, and shepherd McKnight provides a timely resource for those called into roles that are rife with conflict, temptation, and great joy and friendship.
Blessed Broken Given by Glenn Packiam
Packiam’s new book is important because it offers us a sacramental imagination. It gives the people of God a way to imagine ourselves as bread in the hands of Jesus. We are not merely bread, but blessed, broken, and given bread. I agree with Packiam that we live in a secular age brought on by religious pluralism where “our challenge today…is not militant atheism but indifference agnosticism” (177). The kind of secularism we see growing around us is a pragmatic ambivalence towards God, the gospel, and the church. The response to growing secularism is found in a radical hospitality centered around tables, principally the communion table. In the three movements of Jesus at the last supper we find our identity. We are a Eucharistic people. We are blessed. We are broken. We are given. Books like this one have the potential to ignite a new imagination for the people of God for the sake of the world.
How the Body of Christ Talks by C. Christopher Smith
It would be hard for me to overstate my appreciation for this book. The premise may seem pretty mundane (it did to me), but here’s the bottom line—this is really where we’re at. Bereft of compelling and effective models of discipleship and spiritual formation, most American Christians are left defenseless to the onslaught of a violently polarizing culture that prizes entrenchment and tribalism over conversational curiosity and compassionate community. In short, fewer and fewer people and communities are interested in the simple yet powerful practice of conversation. And even if we are, the skills and space required to do so well often elude us. Filled with stories, examples, and practical suggestions, this is one of those “quiet books” that actually holds the potential to catalyze a much-needed spiritual revival among our churches.
The Coming Revolution in Church Economics by Mark DeYmaz
From my vantage point as Missio’s national director, which puts me in touch with a very diverse set of churches and church systems, as well as being the lead pastor of a 200-year-old church in a struggling downtown environment of a small city in Northeast Ohio, it is tremendously clear to me that the kind of economic challenges the church is facing is not (only) of the this-is-always-the-case variety. They are actually era-defining challenges that must be met by era-defining adaptations and innovations. At the same time, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, these challenges are not just burdens to bear, but opportunities to embrace. That is, opportunities to reimagine the church from a more missionary vantage point, opportunities to re-center the voice and gifts of entrepreneurialism (apostles), of being able to read the signs of the times (prophets), and to recruit others to grand causes that reflect an even grander narrative (evangelists). This book by Dymaz isn’t itself a direct exploration of all this, but nevertheless serves as a primer on a conversation that is only going to become more and more important.
Given my day job with InterVarsity Press, it’s impossible for me to recommend books in an unbiased way. But I can unabashedly highlight the work that Missio writers and leaders did in their own book-writing this past year. Three members of our writing team and leading voices published books in 2019: Dennis Edwards (What Is the Bible and How Do We Understand It?), David Fitch (The Church of Us vs. Them), and Derek Vreeland (By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus) all with strong relevance to the work of the church.
And as we look ahead to 2020, keep an eye out for these forthcoming books by the Missio community:
- Dennis Edwards, Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice
- Geoff Holsclaw (co-writing with Cyd Holsclaw), Does God Really Like Me? (January 2020, IVP)
- David Swanson, Rediscipling the White Church (May 2020, IVP)
We hope you will discover these titles as they release, and we’ll continue to highlight resources that are particularly helpful for church leaders as this new year rolls onward.