Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Best Books of 2014

I like making lists. I'm just one of those people. Sometimes I even find the exercise to be a helpful mode of reflection. I thought it would be helpful to catalogue the most important books (for my personal formation) I read in 2014. These aren't the best books written in 2014, as most of them are older, but they are the best books I read in 2014. In years past, I've picked up books, read them, and set them down again without keeping much track of when I read them nor really thinking about how they affected me and shaped me. This year I kept track, as best I could, of the books I read throughout the year and have decided to list the Best Books of 2014. I chose these books for the lasting impact I think they'll have on my own life and thinking.

#15: Woo by Morgan Schmidt 
Woo:Awakening Teenagers Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus is wonderful! It's a book about youth ministry that locates ministry not in some external, preconceived notion, but in the lived experience of teenagers themselves. If there were no other reason to read this one, it'd be enough that it's just fun to read! Morgan Schmidt is a great writer.
In terms of content, it's a light read compared with most of the other books here. But one reason this book has made this list is because in it I have found my new favorite book to recommend to beginners in youth ministry. This book will be life-giving for people who are actually engaged in the church's ministry to young people.

#14: Eccentricity by David Arthur Auten 
I blogged about Eccentricity when it first came out ("The Other Side of The Coin") and it has had me thinking ever since. While the ecclesiological and anthropological emphasis has been on community and relationships, Auten's book points to the individual and locates personhood not in what humans have in common but in what makes them eccentric. It's a great and challenging book and I truly enjoyed reading it.

#13: After Crucifixion by Craig Keen
Craig was a professor of mine in undergrad and ever since then I enthusiastically anticipated a book like this one. Previously, he had only published essays and articles, but After Crucifixion is his real first full length book. Keen is a poetic and inspiring theological voice who writes in a doxological style. Poetic as his thoughts are, they are also sharp and theologically rich--open to a variety of theological conversations.

#12:  The Trinity and The Kingdom by Jurgen Moltmann 
This is one of Moltmann's most important theological works. This is also where he most clearly develops his social trinitarian theology. Grounding his trinitarian thinking in the theology of the cross and the doctrine of revelation, Moltmann creatively articulates trinitarian theology, beginning with the three-ness of God and moving toward its one-ness. If you want to understand Moltmann's trinitarian theology, this book is essential.


#11: Christ The Key by Kathryn Tanner
Any good Christology will be trinitarian and any good trinitarian theology will be fundamentally Christological. Christ The Key explicitly turns to Christ and to Christology to unlock the larger theological system. This book is a wonderful contribution to theology, from creation to consummation. I have only just begun my acquaintance with Kathryn Tanner's work, and I am thrilled to continue to learn from her. She is, without a doubt, one of America's most capable and important theologians.

#10: Bonhoeffer As Youth Worker by Andrew Root
Andrew Root is one of the most prolific young theologians in America and has become one of the most important practical theologians of this generation. He has helped give real credibility to the field of youth ministry as an academic and theological discipline. There are theologians, practical theologians, and youth workers and Root is on a very short list of people who legitimately qualify as all three.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been one of Root's primary theological influences since his first book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, and where most of Roots books are written with the sharp edges of conviction, as responses to real problems and needs in practical theology, this book seems to be written out of pure enjoyment. With joy, Root introduces Bonhoeffer to youth workers as their forefather in the theological turn in youth ministry and he introduces youth ministry to Bonhoeffer scholars as a legitimate lens for interpreting Bonhoeffer's life and work. This book was fun to read!

#9: The Humanity of God by Karl Barth
Don't tell my obsessively Barthian friends about this, but I actually think Barth is pretty great. How could I not!? Barth is one of the greatest and most important theologians in the last few centuries. In this short and relatively accessible book by Barth, he argues that God's divinity and God's humanity are not at odds with one another. He writes,
"God's deity is thus no prison in which He can exist only in and for Himself. It is rather His freedom to be in and for Himself but also with and for us, to assert but also to sacrifice Himself, to be wholly exalted but also completely humble, not only almighty but also almighty mercy, not only Lord but also servant, not only judge but also Himself the judged, not only man's eternal king but also his brother in time. And all that without in the slightest forfeiting His deity! All that, rather, in the highest proof and proclamation of His deity! He who DOES and manifestly CAN do all that, He and no other is the living God.”  
#8: Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers
After moving from being strongly opposed to homosexuality and LGBTQ inclusion, for the past several years I have been convinced that scripture supports the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church and society. Each year I try to read at least a book or two about this issue. Jack Rogers' book is one of the best on the issue and provides a personal and theological argument for openness and inclusion.

#7: God as Mystery of the World by Eberhard Jüngel 
I picked up God as Mystery of the World in order to better understand Andrew Root's theology. And after my first read, I wasn't sure that I'd actually understood what I had read. Jüngel is a tough and complex read. It actually took the help of John Webster's book, Eberhard Jüngel: An Introduction to His Theology, for me to feel confident with Jüngel. And even still, I feel I have only scratched the surface. This book was important for me and it will continue to be an important theological resource for me from now on. Jüngel is an important voice in practical theology because he is profoundly concerned with the importance of human action but he grounds this concern fundamentally in God's action and the impossibility of human action. As Webster puts it,"He puts down a challenge to demonstrate on the basis of a theology of grace that human agency is interesting and important" (129).

#6: The Teaching Ministry of Congregations by Richard Osmer 
Richard Osmer has become one of my primary influences in the method of practical theology, particularly when it comes to interdisciplinary methodology. I had read his Practical Theology: An Introduction and found it profoundly helpful in sorting out the shape and character of practical theology, but The Teaching Ministry of Congregations was even more important for me. Osmer demonstrates a unique ability in both empirical research and theological reflection. It was important for me to read this book, not only to understand the church's educational ministry and the theology of Jurgen Moltmann (he has a wonderful chapter on Moltmann in this book), but to see how to actually do practical theology--how to think through the descriptive, interpretive, normative, and pragmatic tasks. I will continue to use this book, especially its epilogue.

#5: The Depleted Self by Donald Capps

I never realized how Narcissistic I was until I read The Depleted Self by Dr. Donald Capps. Capps writes about narcissism--perhaps the emerging dominant affliction of human identity--in a fresh perspective, liberating it from conflation into individualism and mere selfishness. He looks at narcissism as a depletion of the self, a self that is barely being held together by the need for approval and achievement. Capps' example of “…a student who ordinarily expects an A and receives an A minus…” and expresses “…the view that he or she is thus revealed to all as a failure” and “…conversely, having gotten an A, the student may feel fraudulent, and unable to take genuine pleasure in a real achievement…” all sounds like me (p. 13). I can definitely see in myself this vacillation between failure and fraudulence and all the despair and shame associated therewith. If I get an A, the class must have been easy, if I get an A-, I feel I have let myself and everyone else down. In a culture of narcissism, Capps calls for a theology of shame while so much of our hamartiology has been oriented toward and around guilt. Simply having a category of shame in Christian theology provides a paradigm shift in the way we talk about sin and salvation. Salvation is no longer just about the forgiveness of guilt, but about grace and acceptance offered to those who are ashamed.

#4: The Coming of God by Jürgen Moltmann   
Moltmann's theology has always been eschatological, but until he waited until relatively late in his career to actually write an eschatology. The Coming of God is a truly eschatological eschatology, rooted in his deeply trinitarian and Christological commitments laid out in his previous works. This book marks the culmination of Moltmann's second and (probably) final major theological project which began with The Trinity and the Kingdom. Moltmann lays out an eschatology which looks to the coming of God's future into history rather than the becoming of the present into the future. This book is indispensable to Moltmann's work as a whole.

#3: What is a Person? by Christian Smith
Christian Smith is arguably the most important sociologist for practical theology. His contributions to the youth ministry world, in understanding the dominant religious perspectives of young people in the United States, have been paradigm shifting. In What is A Person? Smith argues that personhood can be approached ontologically, not merely epistemologically. In other words, we are not forced merely to understand the conditions and circumstances to which persons are subject, but we can approach and understand persons and personhood in themselves as emergent reality. This is a very important book, not only for practical theologians but for anyone who wishes to engage the concept of personhood.

#2: The Cross in Our Context by Douglas John Hall
Douglas John Hall is the most important theologian I never knew about. Hall, who is part of the United Church of Canada, a cousin to the United Church of Christ, is a contextual theologian with a deeply robust systematic theology. The Cross in Our Context  is a wonderful example and articulation of the theology of the cross. Hall takes up the task of articulating theology both apologetically and kerygmatically, as the theology of the cross seems to demand, and he does real justice to a variety of perspectives. This is a book that every theologian needs to read.

#1: Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross by Andrew Root
And the best, most important book I was able to read in 2014 was Andrew Root's Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross. This is Andrew Root's most important contribution yet... and if you know my bias, you know that's saying a lot. Root, who has long been an established voice in the world of youth ministry makes his mark on the larger conversation of practical theology and offers a uniquely theological approach to the discipline. Positioning his approach among the approaches of others, Root lays out a practical theological method which takes seriously people's experience of God's action and refuses to diminish the importance of divine action or conflate it into epistemology. Attending to the concrete and lived experience of divine and human encounter--in the face of the impossibility which surrounds human action--Root exegetes the text of human experience through the lens of God's being as becoming, through the lens of ministry itself. As such, Root gives us a theological method (indeed a theology of the cross) that is practical, interdisciplinary, but utterly and fundamentally grounded in the normative task of practical theology. Through the (perhaps counterintuitive) lens of justification, with the help of Eberhard Jüngle, Root shifts the ground on which practical theology stands, orienting human action toward reception of the ministering presence of the living Jesus within the impossibility and death of the human condition. Root puts the 'theology' back in practical theology and turns 'practice' back toward participation in the person of God through the ministry of God. Christopraxis may be the most important work in the field of practical theology in the last several years.

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