Tuesday, December 25, 2007

eight to remember

I enjoy reading. Here are my highlights from 2007 (in no particular order)...

1. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal: the fall of a dynasty, Delhi 1857 (Bloomsbury, 2006)

Having been based in Delhi from aged 10-17, I consider myself a Delhi-wallah (belonging-to-Delhi) and so does Dalrymple: Delhi is "a city that has haunted and obsessed me for over two decades" (6); "of the great cities of the world, only Rome, Istanbul, and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains" (8); during a six hundred year period climaxing with the 18th century, "Delhi had been the greatest city between Constantinople and Canton" (8); "sometimes it seems as if no other great city of the world is less loved, or less cared for" (24).
Fed by that passion and his supreme skill as an historian-writer Dalyrymple tells the story of the fall of the Mughal Empire (which gave us things like the Taj Mahal) and how the final emperor left the city in a bullock cart, heading for exile in Rangoon - having watched the easy relationship between Briton and Indian descend into hatreds and racisms ... and lead to "the most serious armed challenge to imperialism the world over during the course of the nineteenth century" (21).

2. Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace (Monarch, 2007)

Yes, the movie was staggering. I've seen it five times (and counting!). The scenes with John Newton in them impact me as much as any I have seen on the silver screen. Rarely have the spiritual and social implications of the gospel hit me with such force at the very same time.
And then a book to accompany the movie? Surely this is just a commercial gimmick? No! The book allows the timeline of Wilberforce's life to be opened and extended. I gained a new appreciation for his conversion experience ... for the way Wilberforce was the natural outcome of Wesley and Whitefield in an Ephesians 2:8-10 kind of way ... for his prevailing persistence and then the way he lived his final days poor and destitute. The book is so good I bought a copy for each one of my children. The world needs another generation of Wilberforces.

3. Christopher JH Wright, The Mission of God: unlocking the Bible's grand narrative (IVP, 2006)

This is one for the ages. After a slowish start to the book, I began to savour it page by page. Chris makes a case not so much for the biblical basis of mission but for the missional basis of the Bible: "The whole Bible renders to us the story of God's mission through God's people in their engagement with God's world for the sake of the whole of God's creation (51) ... The mission is God's. The marvel is that God invites us to join in" (67). As he is an Old Testament scholar I love the way he lingers there, valuing the ongoing contribution of Exodus, of the Jubilee, of covenants while also deepening our understanding of things like idolatry and holiness. Along the way he sees Genesis 12:1-3 as the first Great Commission. He concludes that "election is missional in its purpose ... God so loved the world that he chose Israel" (329). There is time to reflect on our care for creation (afterall "there is nowhere we can step off his property" (403) ); on the image of God and how it relates to the HIV/AIDS crisis ... it is just a wonderfully satisfying book for those who want to embrace the full gospel for all the nations.

4. Pete Hammond, Lessons, Prayers & Scriptures on the Faith Journey... (InterVarsity/USA Marketplace, 2007)

Pete has been one of the gurus in the faith-at-work movement around the world, affirming the place of God's call to places and people beyond just the gathered church context. In fact it is he who articulates church as both 'gathered' and 'scattered' (categories which I just love to use). He edited the WordinLife Study Bible. This little book is just as the title says - a collection of pieces drawn from his life and experience. There is wisdom here. There is tenderness and warmth. There is deep, deep spirituality. It is personal. It is counter-cultural. I do fear that its circulation will be more limited and that would be such a shame. Knock the InterVarsity (USA) door down until you get your copy! We do have one copy in the Carey Baptist College library.

5. Lorraine Moller, On the Wings of Mercury (Longacre, 2007)

I try to discipline myself to read biographies of people unlike me so that my understanding of people is always broadening. This was a good choice! I read it in two days. Just rivetting. Moller may be a famous NZ marathon runner, but she is also a remarkable writer ("Puberty was invented to humiliate humans" 48). What a mastery of metaphor (running as if "molten lead was seeping out of my shoes" 92). The opening pages on her health/family difficulties as a child - and how this served to stain so much of her life - contain such honesty and insight. There is then this rawness to the book. She stumbles into abusive relationships with men. She is drawn to odd spiritualities (with Mercury taking on a God-like identity in the story). She is so open about her angers and jealousies and griefs. She even talks about having a nose-job to correct a lifelong sensitivity about having a Big Nose as a child. There is a lost-ness in the story that provoked a sadness in me.

6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: a discussion of Christian fellowship (Harper & Row, 1954)

This is not much more than booklet - but how could I have missed it for all these years? The way it speaks from beyond our own time into our own time with such prophetic clarity and relevance is striking. We talk about it so much today - but what does authentic Christian community actually look like? Read the book (in a matter of 3-5hrs) with its chapters on Community, The Day With Others, The Day Alone, Ministry, Confession and Communion. Our annual Carey Staff Retreat in February will be built partly around an open and creative engagement with this little book.

7. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: practices that transform us (IVP, 2005)

In the embrace of spirituality - particularly the rediscovery by evangelicals of the richness in the Catholic heritage - something has been lost as well as gained. Calhoun corrects some of this by accumulating a full range of spiritual practises under the following headings: Worship, Open Myself to God, Relinquish the False Self, Share My Life With Others, Hear God's Word, Incarnate the Love of Christ, Prayer... In doing so she'll make room for the practice of PrayerLabyrinth but not let go of something like Bible Memorization, on her way to outlining 55 practices in way that makes it easy and clear to engage them. There is balance here. There is fullness here. I made it 'required reading' for a Spirituality class in 2007 as we made some effort to have a class blog by which to measure our progress through the book together. I think it now replaces the works of Richard Foster as the starting point for engaging the spiritual disciplines.

8. Manfred Kets De Vries, The Leadership Mystique (Pearson Education, 2001)

Don't we become a bit intoxicated with leadership-talk today? There can be a bit of a cult of leadership which develops. It almost becomes its own gospel. This book restrained me in 2007. In exploring the ‘inner theatre’, the unseen world that drives so much of what is seen in our behaviour, I encountered new perspectives on failure, change, dysfunction, transference, neuroses, and competency. Even the irrational has a rationale! And with the abundance of interactive exercises/quizzes designed to strengthen my self-awareness, there is no option but to progress in these areas. "People in positions of authority have an uncanny ability to reawaken transferential processes in themselves and others." (87) This makes leadership a lot trickier than it may seem. I'd rate this to be the most impacting book I have read on leadership in a decade.

I had some disappointments along the way in 2007. People I love and whom I like to draw alongside have recommended Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz and Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis to me (I love Bell's nooma stuff). However it does worry me that I could not stick with either of these books through to the end - particularly when so many find them to be so resonant with their own stories of walking with Jesus. I fear I might be losing touch with the key issues that people are facing.

nice chatting - for one final time in 2007!

Paul

2 comments:

Rhett said...

I did my own Top 10 inspired by your post.

The 2 ministry/theology based books which made the list were 'Contemplative Youth Ministry' by Mark Yaconelli, and 'Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition' by Calvin Miller.

Have you read any Miller books? 'Preaching' is almost like a beginners manual, but still immensely readable, which is quite an achievement.

As far as Blue Like Jazz and Velvet Elvis, I enjoyed them both but they've both gotten somewhat carried away on a wave of hype. Still, for me they are the pick of the Emergent bunch, which I have to admit I have gone off a bit this year.

Paul said...

Yes, Rhett I am a bit of a fan of Calvin Miller. He has had a succession of books on preaching spread over three decades. He is such a creative and artistic writer as he fires the reader's imagination - very important in preaching.

I really like The Sermon-Maker where the right-hand page is a story about a preacher and the left-hand page is a commentary on the story. Just full of wisdom.

And the book you mention - Preaching - is the best approximation to a textbook on preaching in at leat a decade - in my opinion.

Hope Wellington is treating you well. Lots of swimming in the deep end, I trust :)