Monday, October 02, 2006

Book Update: Can you guess what is missing?

The following books from and about and promoting progressive or liberal Christianity have been published already in 2006, a kind of "perfect storm" of publishing from, so to speak, "our side of the table." (just in time for the elections? one wonders). Guess what is missing from virtually all of these....a gospel imperative, not to mention survival and thriving in the emerging cultures, of church planting. These are excellent books, rah-rah for the cause, and I wish more people paid attention to them, and I am thrilled that people are paying attention to them...but....across the board so many with a missing piece which many have said is vital to the very survival in the coming generations.

"Getting On Message: Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel" (Beacon Press, 2006, UUA)
---"Why The Christian Right Is Wrong" (2006, Jossey-Bass) by Robin Meyers of the United Church of Christ;
---"Big Christianity: What's Right with the Religious Left" (2006, Westminster John Knox) by Disciples of Christ Jan G. Linn;
---"Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament: How the Religious Right distorts the Faith and Threatens America" (2006, Basic Books) by Randall Balmer, evangelical Christian and American religious history professor;
---“The Phoenix Affirmations; A New Vision for the Future of Christianity” (2006, Jossey-Bass0 by Eric Elnes, a UCC minister;
---The emerging Christian Way (2006, CopperHouse), a book of essays by progressives (at least there is some allusion here from Marcus Borg about the rise of the emergent church, as I note he and Brian McLaren have been appearing together).
---“Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith” (2006, HarperSanFrancisco) by Diana Butler Bass, Episcopalian.
---"Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right" (2006, Simon and Schuster) by Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, United Methodist.
---and from a more inter-religious and secular intersection is Rabbi Michael Lerner's "The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right (2006, HarperSanFrancisco). There is a buried nugget here about starting those groups of the network for spiritual progressives, but it is still mostly message-driven instead of why these groups reflect something basic about the spiritual left, and indeed about God.

Add to this from just a year earlier but with an updated guide in 2006:
---“God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” by evangelical and liberal Jim Wallis who has published this year “Living God’s Politics,” (2006, HarperSanFrancisco), a guidebook based on the recent work. The guidebook is at least geared for group work, though it is lean on the need for forming the groups as well as keys for how to form these groups for the guidebook among people not already a part of "churchwork."

Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church: A memoir of faith” (also 2006, HarperSanFrancisco) is in a different category as a memoir from a progressive Christian. It actually makes a pretty good personal journey case why people are leaving church to deepen faith and why so many are finding that in emerging organic ways that have little to do with organized church, but she doesn't talk about how many are finding their responses in emergent and church planting movements to the malaise and malady that afflicts the "successful" church not to mention the many dysfunctional unhealthy churches. But there is a section, all too brief, on the start of a new church by the church Taylor leaves. In fact it talks about how starting that sucessful church too added to the "burnout" if that phrase can be applied; probably because it was seen as another way of program outreach rather than organic reproduction that revs up the juices of the "rev" instead of runs it down. A good 20-20 hindsight kind of look at where a lot of people are.

But then how about these titles too for hitting the mark in so many ways except one crucial one.

"The Future of Christianity: Can It Survive?" (2006, Prometheus Books) by Arthur J. Bellinzoni, professor emeritus of religion, which is another in a long line of books by liberals looking at Christianity in this coming century but without any mention of the emerging church and necessity for church planting movements,
like also---
John Shelby Spong's "A New Christianity for a New World" (2001, Harper SanFrancisco) and "Why Christianity Must Change of Die" (1998, HarperSanFrancisco), --great titles and thought but nothing about church-planting movements for progressives. The first book has several concluding sections on liturgy and ecclesia and how it might not be church but they are rooted in how the message coming from these events will be changed or need to change, not so much about the very gatherings themselves.
"Saving Jesus: From those Who are Right" (1999, Fortress Press) by Carter Heyward, and Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity" (1997, Crown) by Bruce Bawer. Great books from those who have found great liberation in Jesus after suffering from the exclusion of the church, but while they focus on the message coming from the Right they don't reveal how the Right's methods and its passion for engaging the new cultures is helping it spread while those who have "seen the light" are holing up in their newfound safe places.
There was Christianity in the 21st Century, edited by Deborah Brown (2000, Crossroad) which has one, at least part of one, promising essay that touches on the life of the church itself and evangelism in "Reflections on the Church and the City' by Paul Moore, Jr. I would hope these books with such wide-ranging all encompassing titles would take into account the emergent and the evangelical as part of liberalism and not as somehow its antithesis.

and "Christianity in the 21st Century: Reflections on the challenges ahead" by Robert Wuthnow (Oxford University Press, back in 1993) which at least gives much thought to churches and communities but doesn't mention church planting, although in the epilogue there is a pretty good summary of why church isn't working for many and how they have found spirituality in small groups and how these small groups and relationships could become church for many. This is a sleeper of a book, I think, which emergent and church planters should go back to even though it will of course be dated. Or engage with his other works.

Oh well, now to put a lot of these books back on the shelves. I hope emergent folks will become more acquainted with them, and that the progressives would become more acquainted with the ones on my blog list in the Book Section (see archives).

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