I recently returned from a three-week break to this question asked repeatedly. So I thought I would take some space in a blog post to provide an answer.
About half of the time was spent on actual vacation, with a four-day, three-night trip to a B&B near Comfort. PJ and I then returned to spend the 4th-of-July weekend with family. After that my brother from Tallahassee arrived and we had an impromptu family reunion.
I then spent the next 10 days in concentrated study time, reading a number of books and articles, thinking about several matters and doing some writing. My pursuit during those 10 days was largely along two lines: a) to push deeper into relationship with Jesus; and b) to think more deeply about the church and society/culture.
Warner, Larry. Journey With Jesus: Discovering The Spiritual Exercises Of Saint Ignatius. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press: 2010. Digital.
To help push deeper into Jesus I began by reading Journey with Jesus, a modernized version of the ‘exercises’ of Ignatius. These exercises (and the book) are intended to drive one deeper into the love and mercies of Jesus. I began that walk now just over two weeks ago. Perhaps I’ll talk more about that later. Right now I’m just on the journey.
Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: a conversation in spiritual theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. Print.
I also read most of Christ Plays in 10,000 Places by Eugene Peterson. This work is pretty dense and pretty long. It represents Peterson’s mature thinking about the subject of ‘Spiritual Theology.’ He writes, “If we don’t know where we are going, any road will get us there. But if we have a destination—in this case a life lived to the glory of God—there is a well-marked way, the Jesus-revealed Way. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to the details of living life on this way.”
After a bit of concentrated reading and meditation on these two works I dove into a reading list on the church and her influence (or lack thereof) in contemporary society. What follows then, is an annotated bibliography giving some detail about those topics that caught my attention.
Duin, Julia. Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008. Print.
Julia Duin is a wonderful writer, having worked as a professional journalist most of her adult life. At the time she wrote this pithy little book she was the religion editor of the Washington Post. While the book is five years old, it chronicles and footnotes the movement of disaffected people away from the church. While I found her work very helpful, it was also discouraging because I think she has laid bare many practices of local church leaders which may be difficult to reverse.
Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Zondervan, 2012. Digital.
I have not yet finished this book, but it has been the most helpful and the most challenging. Keller, a prolific author, seminary professor, church planter and pastor, is one of our nation’s premier spiritual leaders. In ‘Center Church’ he lays out his contention that the church in America needs to preach the gospel of Jesus more clearly and critique our nation’s idolatry more pointedly. On both counts I can say that I was deeply challenged and I’m continuing to wrestle with what I’m learning.
Lawson, Thomas. Letters From An Atheist Nation: Godless Voices of America in 1903. Digital.
This peculiar little tome outlined the atheist perspective from a little different angle. The author re-published letters to the editor from a newspaper leading the ‘Free Thinking’ movement in late 19th century. The letters are 110 years old, but the perspective is about three thousand years old. I read this mainly to remind myself of the world outside the Christian faith and how many people think, and how I used to think, about reality apart from God.
Rainer, Thom & Eric Geiger. Simple Church: Returning To God’s Process For Making Disciples. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006. Print.
Rainer and Gieger are Baptist leaders, evangelists and church planters. I think Rainer is right that most congregations would benefit by simplifying their mission and exercising the discipline to bring all its efforts in alignment with that vision. At the time of its writing Gieger was on staff with a large Florida congregation putting these ideas into practice.
Stetzer, Ed. Planting New Churches In A Postmodern Age. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003. Print.
I largely skimmed this book mainly because I am pretty familiar with Stetzer and this type of church planting manual. His book is helpful in that its chapters are short and have only a minimal philosophical bent. The book is largely a how-to manual…and a pretty good one. Byt the way,the very first recommendation inside the book jacket comes from our friend Steve Sjogren.