Culture / Formation / Global Church / Theology / Witness

The Missio Alliance Essential Reading List of 2017

What does it look like to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s coming Kingdom in North America today? How can we reflect theologically on the cultural trends emerging in the world around us? In what ways must we be formed to bear forth the image of God into our culture? How must our imaginations and minds be transformed to see God so that we might understand what He is doing in this place?

These are the kinds of conversations Missio Alliance exists to foster. To that end, we have invited a diverse group of theological practitioners to offer their voices and perspectives alongside one another in the areas of theology, culture, formation, global church, and witness.

But we are a community undergoing our own process of exploration, learning, and growth that relies on voices and work beyond our Missio Alliance community. So at the end of each year, our editors and Writing Team compile a list of our favorite books published within the previous year—books that have guided us in careful thinking, shaped our imaginations, imparted deeper insight, and inspired us to fuller participation in God’s mission.

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 the following ways:

  1. They contribute something important to the conversation about being the church for God’s mission in post-Christian North America.
  2. They excel in championing the intersection of theological reflection and ministry practice.
  3. They offer a needed and irenic exploration of a crucial issue facing the Church in North America.
  4. They have been published in the last 12-15 months.

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! If you’re looking for books that advance a theologically robust, diverse, & hopeful vision for evangelical witness, we think these should be at the top of your list! Click To Tweet

In alphabetical order and accompanied by the publishers blurb…

Top 15 Essential Reads of 2017

1. 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ by Alan Hirsch, 100 Movements Publishing

In the pages of this book, Alan Hirsch takes us on a really deep dive into the fivefold (APEST) typology of ministry as articulated in Ephesians 4:1-16, but he takes us to a depth and scope that few (if any) have ventured before. By laying out the most comprehensive model of APEST to date—one that incorporates deep theology as well as innovative practice—Hirsch once again demonstrates an almost uncanny capacity to change not only the nature and content of conversation itself, but also the scorecard on how we understand calling, church, leadership, and organization.

With remarkable passion, and with Scripture as his guide, Alan Hirsch delves ever deeper into the symphony that is God’s church. More than practical, 5Q really informs and inspires. Slowly, as we read, the five-fold gifting unfolds as visible in all creation, a masterpiece of God’s marvelous design, magnificent to behold. David Fitch

More than practical, Hirsch's 5Q really informs and inspires. Click To Tweet

2. Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James KA Smith, Baker Academic Publishing

In this culmination of his widely read and highly acclaimed Cultural Liturgies project, James K. A. Smith examines politics through the lens of liturgy. What if, he asks, citizens are not only thinkers or believers but also lovers? Smith explores how our analysis of political institutions would look different if we viewed them as incubators of love-shaping practices—not merely governing us but forming what we love. How would our political engagement change if we weren’t simply looking for permission to express our “views” in the political sphere but actually hoped to shape the ethos of a nation, a state, or a municipality to foster a way of life that bends toward shalom?

Negotiating his way through the mass of confusions known as political theology, Smith has written a superb book that develops a constructive and nuanced position in the Reformed tradition. He has done so, moreover, by engaging in conversations with Oliver O’Donovan and Jeff Stout. This is a book that should be read widely by anyone interested in addressing the fundamental questions of church and politics. Stanley Hauerwas

What if we could imagine living in our neighbourhoods in a way that transformed our whole outlook on faith, hope, and love? Preston Pouteaux writes about how an unlikely journey into beekeeping changed how he saw his neighbors. The Bees of Rainbow Falls reminds us that we matter to our community, that goodness is found all around us, and that new life emerges out of the small and sublime. With the quirky curiosity of a beekeeper and the thoughtful care of a pastor, he gently welcomes readers to step into their own neighbourhoods. What if the very best gift was waiting for you just beyond your front door?

Through personal stories and reflections, fascinating historical accounts, and challenging texts and images, Preston encourages and urges us all to re-imagine where we live as the place where God is at work and we are invited to join Him. Read it. Then read it again and share it with others. And most of all, live it! Karen Wilk
Preston encourages and urges us all to re-imagine where we live as the place where God is at work and we are invited to join Him. @KJWilk3 #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

4. Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries by Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, Baker Academic

From facing wild beasts in the arena to governing the Roman Empire, Christian women—as preachers and philosophers, martyrs and empresses, virgins and mothers—influenced the shape of the church in its formative centuries. This book provides in a single volume a nearly complete compendium of extant evidence about Christian women in the second through fifth centuries…showing how their achievements can be edifying for contemporary Christians.


This is a book for every pastor’s and teacher’s bookshelf because it not only tells stories about women but also shows how the early church, which has often been maligned for its reputation when it comes to women, was more formed by women than many know. Scot McKnight

5. Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 and 2 by Gregory Boyd, Fortress Press

A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.

Here a world is opened up where the violence of the Old Testament becomes not merely tolerable but illumines the God who loves, never coerces, and rejects all violence in Jesus Christ. A monumental work. Breathtaking in scope. A stunning accomplishment from one of the brilliant theological minds of our day. I could not be more thankful for a book. David Fitch

.@greg_boyd opens up a world where the violence of the Old Testament illumines the God who loves, never coerces & rejects all violence in Jesus Christ. @Fitchest on @greg_boyd #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

6. God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Krish Kandiah, InterVarsity Press

Many of us call God our Father, Lord, Friend, and Savior. But when we delve into the perplexing bits of Scripture, we discover a God who cannot be pinned down, explained, or predicted. Is it possible that we have missed the Bible’s consistent teaching that God is other, higher, stranger? Krish Kandiah offers us a fresh look at some of the difficult, awkward, and even troubling Bible passages, helping us discover that when God shows up unannounced, uninvited, and unrecognized, that’s precisely when big things happen. God Is Stranger challenges us to replace our sanitized concept of God with a more awe-inspiring, magnificent and majestic, true-to-the-Bible God.

In this xenophobic age of open vilification toward outsiders, Krish Kandiah presents us with the provocative idea that God often comes to us as a stranger. This is such an important book, reminding us that xenophobia is not only irrational, it is sinful. God’s concern is for the least, the lost, and the left out, and so should ours. Michael Frost

Kandiah presents us with the provocative idea that God often comes to us as a stranger. This important book, reminds us that xenophobia is not only irrational, it is sinful. @michaelfrost6 #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

7. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren, InterVarsity Press

How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something―making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys―that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship.

Under Tish Harrison Warren’s insightful gaze, our seemingly ‘boring’ daily routines become a liturgy of their own―calling us to confession and community, Scripture and Sabbath, baptism and embodiment. Greg Jao

Under @Tish_H_Warren insightful gaze, our seemingly 'boring' daily routines become a liturgy of their own. #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

8. Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling, InterVarsity Press

“Who in the world am I?” The Enneagram is like a mirror, reflecting dimensions of ourselves that are sometimes hard to see. In this helpful guide, spiritual director and Enneagram teacher Alice Fryling offers an introduction to each number of the Enneagram and the respective triads into which they’re organized. More than just helping us discern our number, Fryling shows how knowing it can lead to transformation by revealing to us both our false and our true selves. With questions for reflection and personal meditations aimed at leading you into deeper self-awareness, Mirror for the Soul will give you new perspective on yourself and reveal how you can experience God’s love more abundantly.

Self-awareness in Christ is one of the most important elements of our transformation. Yet we often construct world views that protect an inner broken self and that perpetuate destructive coping patterns. Understanding these constructions and patterns can release a liberating wellspring of growth and teach us Spirit-led engagement in God’s mission rather than our misguided perceptions. MaryKate Morse

Understanding our broken patterns can release a wellspring of growth & teach us Spirit-led engagement in God’s mission. @marykatemorse #Enneagram #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

9. The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma, InterVarsity Press

It’s clear that issues of race and equality have come to the forefront in our nation’s consciousness. Every week yet another incident involving racial tension splashes across headlines and dominates our news feeds. But it’s not easy to unpack the origins of these tensions, and perhaps we wonder whether any of these issues really has anything to do with us.


For every person who has said, ‘I have a friend who is a person of color,’ or ‘I am not racist,’ or ‘I am not more privileged than anyone else,’ this book is an important read. Without grasping the concept of privilege, it is difficult to grasp the reality and pain of the racial divide in America. Adult small groups, Sunday School classes, book discussion groups would greatly benefit from reading this book. MaryKate Morse

A book for everyone who has ever said 'I am not racist,' or 'I am not more privileged than anyone else' @MaryKateMorse #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

10. Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Long Westfall, Baker Academic

Respected New Testament scholar Cynthia Long Westfall offers a coherent Pauline theology of gender, which includes fresh perspectives on the most controverted texts. Westfall interprets passages on women and men together and places those passages in the context of the Pauline corpus as a whole. She offers viable alternatives for some notorious interpretive problems in certain Pauline passages, reframing gender issues in a way that stimulates thinking, promotes discussion, and moves the conversation forward. As Westfall explores the significance of Paul’s teaching on both genders, she seeks to support and equip males and females to serve in their area of gifting.

Breaks new ground in a worn out debate by looking at the entire Pauline corpus. Eye-opening! Carolyn Custis James

'Paul and Gender' breaks new ground in a worn out debate by looking at the entire Pauline corpus. @carolynezer #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

11. Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David P. Leong, InterVarsity Press

Geography matters. We long for diverse, thriving neighborhoods and churches, yet racial injustices persist. Why? Because geographic structures and systems create barriers to reconciliation and prevent the flourishing of our communities. Race and Place reveals the profound ways in which these geographic forces and structures sustain the divisions among us. Urban missiologist David Leong, who resides in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, unpacks the systemic challenges that are rarely addressed in the conversation about racial justice. The evening news may deliver story after story that causes us to despair. But Leong envisions a future of belonging and hope in our streets, towns, cities, and churches.

David Leong helps us see how racialized our cities have been historically and how we continue to suffer under these decisions from decades ago. But Race and Place also provides us with concrete steps to live out the good news of justice and shalom in our neighborhoods and communities. Amos Yong

Leong helps us see how racialized our cities have been historically & how we continue to suffer under these decisions. @DrAmosYong #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

12. Reunion: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners by Bruxy Cavey, Herald Press

Dig into Scripture with Cavey as he unfolds God’s message for the world. Learn why you shouldn’t follow the Bible (but why you’ll want to read it to learn how to follow Jesus). Scout out the real definitions of sin and salvation, which might surprise you. Discover your true citizenship in the Jesus nation, where you might be ready to die for a cause but never willing to kill for one. Glimpse a God who is love itself and who, like it or not, just can’t stop thinking about you.


Bruxy’s book of the gospel articulates the central Christian message in one word, three words, and thirty words grounded in God’s love for the world. This books offers helpful language to think about the gospel and communicate it in a way the empowers saints and attracts sinners. Derek Vreeland

.@Bruxy offers helpful language to think about the gospel and communicate it in a way the empowers saints and attracts sinners. @DerekVreeland #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

13. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd, WaterBrook Publishing

In his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Puritan revivalist Jonathan Edwards shaped predominating American theology with a vision of God as angry, violent, and retributive. Three centuries later, Brian Zahnd was both mesmerized and terrified by Edwards’s wrathful God. Haunted by fear that crippled his relationship with God, Zahnd spent years praying for a divine experience of hell. What Zahnd experienced instead was the Father’s love—revealed perfectly through Jesus Christ—for all prodigal sons and daughters. Thoughtfully wrestling with subjects like Old Testament genocide, the crucifixion of Jesus, eternal punishment in hell, and the final judgment in Revelation, Zanhd maintains that the summit of divine revelation for sinners is not God is wrath, but God is love.

In his poetic mode, Zahnd invites us to an alternative that is grounded not in ‘Biblicism’ but in the reality of Jesus who embodies the inexplicable love of God that passes all human understanding. Zahnd writes as one emancipated to evangelical joy. He invites his readers to walk with him into such a God-given vocation that honors the God of love and that loves the neighbor. Walter Brueggemann

.@BrianZahnd invites us to an alternative that is grounded not in ‘Biblicism’ but in the reality of Jesus who embodies the inexplicable love of God. @WaltBrueggemann #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

14. Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha, Chalice Press

When there’s so much conflict around the country and around the corner, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, powerless, and helpless. What can one person do to make a difference?Here’s the good news. Millions of everyday people are ready to step into their power to transform their communities. And you are one of them. Take heart and be inspired by real stories of ordinary people who took action and changed their corner of the world, one step at a time. Equal parts inspiration, education, and Do-It-Yourself, Transforming Communities by veteran community activist Sandhya Jha will open your eyes to the world-healing potential within you, and give you the vision, the tools, and the encouragement to start transforming your neighborhood, one person at a time.

Protests aren’t enough. And experts can’t fix communities from the outside. If you’re looking for hope amidst the turmoil of our times alongside practical strategies to enhance your own work, read each chapter and take notes in the margins. From innovative prison programs and new church models like Gordon Cosby’s Church of the Saviour, you’ll find inspiration. Rob Wilson-Black

Equal parts inspiration, education, and Do-It-Yourself, Transforming Communities will open your eyes to the world-healing potential within you. #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

15. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White by Daniel Hill, InterVarsity Press

Daniel Hill will never forget the day he heard these words: “Daniel, you may be white, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you have no culture. White culture is very real. In fact, when white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins. So it would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.” Confused and unsettled by this encounter, Hill began a journey of understanding his own white identity. Today he is an active participant in addressing and confronting racial and systemic injustices. And in this compelling and timely book, he shows you the seven stages to expect on your own path to cultural awakening. It’s crucial to understand both personal and social realities in the areas of race, culture, and identity. This book will give you a new perspective on being white and also empower you to be an agent of reconciliation in our increasingly diverse and divided world.

Daniel Hill’s personal and deep dive into whiteness, reconciliation, and the dividing lines in our social matrix of race is needed like never before. At a time of ongoing racial weariness and colorblind responses, I’m so grateful for this resource. Allow the transparency and courage of this book to lead you into the needed work of unity, liberation, and justice. Efrem Smith

.@danielhill1336's personal & deep dive into whiteness, reconciliation, and the dividing lines in our social matrix of race is needed like never before. @efremsmith #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

What would you add to the list?