Sunday, December 27, 2009

Take Up and Read!

Turn off the TV, get off Facebook, postpone that coffee date and tuck the kids into bed. Clear the schedule to wrestle with these subversive ideas:

1. Everything Must Change: When the World's Biggest Problems and Jesus' Good News Collide [Brian McLaren, 2007]

I've been wanting to read this for a long time. McLaren is the former Evangelical mega-church pastor who started asking hard questions about the Bible and the world a dozen years ago. His works are widely read by progressive Evangelicals and they are popularized primers on the implications of theologians and biblical scholars like N.T. Wright, Richard Horsley and Walter Brueggemann [among many others]. Everything Must Change is an interdisciplinary work that seeks to analyze the major global problems of the world and how followers of Jesus should respond to these challenges. His short answer is that most American Christians have read the Bible [especially the Gospels] and encountered the world through the wrong 'framing story.' Reading Scripture with a deeper understanding of the historical context of 1st century Palestinian Judaism allows us to see that our focus on personal eternal salvation after death and an individual relationship with Jesus now has short-changed us with a skin-deep gospel message. Jesus' call to repent and follow him was far more revolutionary, political, systemic and earth-shattering.

2. Jesus For President [Shane Claiborne, 2008]

Claiborne is a post-suburban, post-fundamentalist who lives in intentional community in the ghetto of Philadelphia. His work is similiar to McLaren's in that it takes current scholarship at face-value and works tirelessly and fearlessly towards working it out in real-time. For Claiborne, this must mean living simply, creatively and subversively, as we confront the dominant narratives that American society attempts to tell us.

3. Democracy Matters [Cornel West, 2004]

Students at Princeton pack into West's lectures whether they are enrolled in his classes or not. His unique blend of style and substance and masterful telling of this moment in time of United States history is a compelling call for prophetic Christians [as opposed to Constantinian Christians] to restore the legacy of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus' confrontation with the Roman Empire. Living in the American empire today means rejecting the epidemic of spiritual malnutrition and moral constipation and joining movements of peace and justice. Or, as he says in speeches, lectures and interviews, the choice today is either 'Martin Luther King's let freedom ring or the bling-bling and g-string.'

4. The Last Week [Marcus Borg & John-Dominic Crossan, 2008]

Yet another epic look at Jesus in his original context. I read this during Lent this year and encountered holy week again for the first time. Borg and Crossan come from the liberal mainline tradition in the US and their rootedness in both Christian faith and historical work is a wonderful model of a hard-to-find Christianity that embodies both critical thinking and passionate living. For Evangelicals who have always wanted a deeper answer to why Jesus had to die, Borg and Crossan deliver as well as anyone including Joel Green's Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus.

5. Body Politics [John Howard Yoder, 1994]

Speaking of Yoder, I think I've read this 80-page classic at least once a year for the last five. The progressive Mennonite who was a professor at Notre Dame for 3 decades left us this pamphlet on re-thinking 5 Christian practices: baptism, communion, the open meeting, the rule of Paul and the multiplicity of gifts. He takes Christian participation out of the church building and roots in firmly in the real world. Ultimately, it is a manual for what God designed the church to be: more like a political action committee or town-hall meeting than a one-or-two-time-a-week 'event.'

--Theological Autopilot

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