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The Missio Alliance Essential Reading List of 2015: Top 10 + a Bonus!

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Compiling a list of Top Books is hard work – especially for an initiative such as Missio Alliance, which seeks to give voice to the full breadth of the evangelical family. With so many different criteria that could be used to decide what constitutes the top books of the year, what ultimately determined the books in our list was a shared sense among our Writing Team and Editors that these books stood out in two specific ways.

  1. They excel in championing the intersection of theological reflection and ministry practice.
  2. They offer a needed, and irenic exploration of a crucial issue facing the Church in North America.

In other words, if you’re looking for books that seek to advance a theologically robust, diverse, & hopeful vision for evangelical witness amid the challenges & opportunities facing the North American Church in the 21st Century, we think these should be at the top of your list!

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With those criteria in mind, here are the Top Ten Books of 2015 (in alphabetical order) as determined by your Missio Alliance authors and editors…

A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together – Scot McKnight, Zondervan.

The church the Apostle Paul talks about is designed by God to be a fellowship of difference—how people differ socially—and differents—how people differ culturally. God did not design the church to be a two-hour experience on Sunday but a mixture of people from all across the map and spectrum: men and women, rich and poor, Caucasians or African Americans, and Mexican Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Indian Americans, and a mixture of people with varying personalities and tastes. The church McKnight grew up in was a fellowship of sames and likes. There was almost no variety in his church. White folks, same beliefs about everything, same tastes in music and worship and sermons and lifestyle. Because of his experience, he writes incisively and compellingly.

The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family.


Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission – Michael J. Gorman, Eerdmans

The first detailed exegetical treatment of Paul’s letters from the emerging discipline of missional hermeneutics, Michael Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel argues that Paul’s letters invite Christian communities both then and now to not merely believe the gospel but to become the gospel and, in doing so, to participate in the life and mission of God. Showing that Pauline churches were active public participants in and witnesses to the gospel, Gorman reveals the missional significance of various themes in Paul’s letters. He also identifies select contemporary examples of mission in the spirit of Paul, inviting all Christians to practice Paul-inspired imagination in their own contexts.


 

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides – Scott Sauls, Tyndale

Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.


Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World – Carolyn Custis James, Zondervan

Winner of Christianity’s Today 2016 Book Award for Her.meneutics!

Malestrom builds on and expands previous books by Carolyn Custis James to explore the idea of manhood, a growing issue both in the wider culture and in the church. Until now, the entire discussion has been largely reduced to Western conceptions. Instead, James here shows how our culture’s narrow definitions of manhood are upended when we consider the examples of men in the Bible and Jesus’ gospel. Together, they show a whole new Kingdom way of being male and forging men and women into the Blessed Alliance.


Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times – Soong Chan Rah, IVP

When Soong-Chan Rah planted an urban church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his first full sermon series was a six-week exposition of the book of Lamentations. Preaching on an obscure, depressing Old Testament book was probably not the most seeker-sensitive way to launch a church. But it shaped their community with a radically countercultural perspective. The American church avoids lament. But lament is a missing, essential component of Christian faith. Lament recognizes struggles and suffering, that the world is not as it ought to be. Lament challenges the status quo and cries out for justice against existing injustices. Soong-Chan Rah’s prophetic exposition of the book of Lamentations provides a biblical and theological lens for examining the church’s relationship with a suffering world. It critiques our success-centered triumphalism and calls us to repent of our hubris. And it opens up new ways to encounter the other. Hear the prophet’s lament as the necessary corrective for Christianity’s future. A Resonate exposition of the book of Lamentations.


Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality – Deb Hirsch, IVP

Winner of IVP 2015 Readers’ Choice Award!

Nothing has exposed the gap between the church and the broader society quite like the cultural argument over sexuality. Relationships, identities, orientations and even seemingly straightforward concepts such as gender have cut battle lines between the church and the world. In the fog of war and the cloud of conflict, it’s increasingly hard to see our way clearly. There is hope, however. Debra Hirsch has seen it firsthand―in meaningful lifelong relationships with LGBT friends and neighbors, in Christian fellowships and in movements that have held a concern for people created in God’s image and a high view of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality in constructive tension. When you consider the world from the perspective of God’s kingdom mission, it turns out the smoke clears and a redemptive imagination takes root. Discover a holistic, biblical vision of sex and gender that honors God and offers good news to the world.


Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way – Richard Twiss, IVP

The gospel of Jesus has not always been good news for Native Americans. The history of North America is marred by atrocities committed against Native peoples. Indigenous cultures were erased in the name of Christianity. As a result, to this day few Native Americans are followers of Jesus. However, despite the far-reaching effects of colonialism, some Natives have forged culturally authentic ways to follow the way of Jesus. In his final work, Richard Twiss provides a contextualized Indigenous expression of the Christian faith among the Native communities of North America. He surveys the painful, complicated history of Christian missions among Indigenous peoples and chronicles more hopeful visions of culturally contextual Native Christian faith. For Twiss, contextualization is not merely a formula or evangelistic strategy, but rather a relational process of theological and cultural reflection within a local community. Native leaders reframe the gospel narrative in light of post-colonization, reincorporating traditional practices and rituals while critiquing and correcting the assumptions of American Christian mythologies. Twiss gives voice to the stories of Native followers of Jesus, with perspectives on theology and spirituality plus concrete models for intercultural ministry. Future generations of Native followers of Jesus, and those working crossculturally with them, will be indebted to this work.


The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision – Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson, Zondervan

Pastoral ministry today is often ruled by an emphasis on short-sighted goals, pragmatic results, and shallow thinking. Unfortunately, those in the academy tend to have the opposite problem, failing to connect theological study to the pressing issues facing the church today. Contemporary evangelicalism has lost sight of the inherent connection between pastoral leadership and theology. This results in theologically anemic churches, and ecclesial anemic theologies.

Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand contend that among a younger generation of evangelical pastors and theologians, there is a growing appreciation for the native connection between theology and pastoral ministry. At the heart of this recovery of a theological vision for ministry is the re-emergence of the role of the “pastor theologian.”

Raising the banner for the pastor as theologian, this book invites the emerging generation of theologians and pastors to reimagine the pastoral vocation along theological lines, and to identify with one of the above models of the pastor theologian.


The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry – Mandy Smith, IVP

Often as pastors we feel like we need to project strength and competency in order to minister effectively. That’s why we go to conferences and emulate the latest superstars. But we know we can never live up to those images. Deep down, we know our own limitations, our weaknesses, our faults. We fear that if people knew who we really are, we’d be disqualified from ministry. Not so. Mandy Smith unpacks the biblical paradox that God’s strength is revealed through our human weakness. Transparently describing her pastoral journey, Smith shows how vulnerability shapes ministry, through our spiritual practices and relationships, influencing our preaching, teaching and even the nuts and bolts of the daily schedule. Understanding our human constraints makes our ministry more sustainable and guards us against disillusionment and burnout. We don’t have to have it all together. Recognizing our weakness makes us rely on God, so our weakness can become a ministry resource. God has called you to lead not as a demigod, but as a human, so the world can see that the church is a place for humans like them.


Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is at the Center, Noel Castellanos, IVP

The cross means more than we’ve let it mean. Proclaiming the gospel and forming the faithful: these are the most practiced disciplines of the evangelical church. As central as these disciplines are, however, they are only part of the story. And as Christian Community Development Association CEO Noel Castellanos has learned over a lifetime of ministry and mission, the neglect of the gospel’s full implications for the world has contributed to the erosion of communities and the languishing of poor and other marginalized people. In Where the Cross Meets the Street Castellanos shows the strengths and limitations of a narrowly focused church and broadens our imaginations to embrace a gospel that proclaims Christ and forms disciples. This life-giving gospel also demonstrates compassion, confronts injustice and restores individuals and communities to wholeness. This is the whole work of the cross; this is the privilege of those who follow the Word made flesh.


Bonus: Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice – Brenda Salter McNeil, IVP

Roadmap to Reconciliation isn’t officially available until next month, but having had the opportunity to read an advance copy, we HIGHLY recommend you get this book ordered! See below for an endorsement offered by Missio Alliance Co-Director & Editorial Director, JR Rozko…

We can see the injustice and inequality in our lives and in the world. We are ready to rise up. But how, exactly, do we do this? How does one reconcile? What we need is a clear sense of direction. Based on her extensive consulting experience with churches, colleges and organizations, Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil has created a roadmap to show us the way. She guides us through the common topics of discussion and past the bumpy social terrain and political boundaries that will arise. In these pages she voices her call to all believers: “It’s time for the followers of Jesus to embark on the prophetic journey that leads to reconciliation and transformation around the world. Many of us may already be aware of the need for reconciliation in our own backyards. . . . We cannot ignore the plight of the people around us and as globalization continues its relentless march onward, we cannot turn a blind eye to the world at large either. We have to face the realities here at home and we must also embrace the stories of people all around the world.” Each chapter lays out the next step in the journey. With reflection questions and exercises at the end of each chapter, it’s ideal to read together with your church or organization. If you are ready to take the next step into unity, wholeness and justice, then this is the book for you.

We’ve heard it said, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Sadly, ‘good intentions’ are all many of our churches can boast of when it comes to the ministry of reconciliation imparted to us by Christ. This book is a rare gift in holding forth not just a compelling vision for communities of reconciliation, but a practical course of action to achieve it. Following the Roadmap to Reconciliation, so powerfully and honestly laid out by Brenda Salter McNeil, has the potential to help restore the integrity of our churches as outposts of God’s kingdom. All we need now are leaders and churches willing to embark on a journey beyond good intentions!”

What books impacted you this year? Let us know in the comments!

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