Of the listing of books there is no end.

This post contains such a list. Jordan Cooper posted a rather neat idea, about which I began composing this post, when his original post was evidently pulled — it reappeared a few days later… still a neat idea, essentially the creation of a reading list consisting of 40 titles for people wanting to work through an M.Div on their own. Nothing accredited of course, but what would comprise an essential reading list for someone wanting to undertake the task personally, with a specialization in emerging church and postmodern culture. Submit entries in comments on his blog post (he uses Blogger so no pingback). Now that I’ve plugged in a few more thoughts into this post, I’ll note that such a list will be ever incomplete. I haven’t quite hit 40 titles, though if I took a genuine stab at it, it’d be well over 40… and any list I made of 40 books one week would be subject to change the next. Elsewhere, Andrew Jones weighs in with a bit of his take on it, and Scot McKnight has taken to a series of “Top 10” lists, beginning with Top Ten Books: Spiritual Formation and the followup Top Ten Books: Missional Formation. There are many more now in the comments on Jordan’s post, and some great suggestions there as well as in the comments to the other posts linked. More on the validity of such an endeavour follows after my preliminary list below.

Merely thinking through it is a good exercise… what would I put on the list? This is not exhaustive, but here are some initial thoughts:

    Classics & Spirituality

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
  2. With Bonhoeffer and Lewis, there could be an ample handful of each included here.

  3. C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (especially The Last Battle)
  4. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
  5. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines – Reissue : Understanding How God Changes Lives
  6. Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul
  7. Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others
  8. Perseverence:

  9. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  10. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
  11. Org-Structure, Leadership, & Pastoral Resoruces

  12. Leonard Sweet, AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture
  13. Levine, Locke, & Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual (Also available online.)
  14. Eric Raymond, The Cathedral the Bazaar (Also available online as a series of 3 essays.)
  15. Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer
  16. Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction
  17. Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry
  18. Culture, Contextualization, & Postmodernism

  19. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey
  20. Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism
  21. Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason
  22. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
  23. Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture
  24. Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?
  25. Everyone considering missionary endeavours should be somehow influenced by Jon Bonk.

  26. Jon Bonk, The World at War the Church at Peace
  27. Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence As a Western Missionary Problem
  28. Biographical Studies

  29. Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts
  30. Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon
  31. Floyd McLung, Living on the Devil’s Doorstep: The McClung Family Story
  32. A popular novel perhaps, but deep insights there for the taking.

  33. Dominique Lapierre, The City of Joy
  34. Emerging Church

  35. Eddie Gibbs & Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (not yet released)
  36. Mike Yaconelli, ed., Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic
  37. Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church
  38. Theological Bent

  39. John Piper, Desiring God
  40. Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
  41. To stimulate thinking on the process of salvation:

  42. David Pawson, Normal Christian Birth
  43. No theology in a vacuum

  44. Ajith Fernando, The Christian’s Attitude Toward World Religions
  45. The final item to read in any program of theological study:

  46. Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians
  47. Articles

  48. Rob McAlpine, “Detoxing From Church
  49. Tim Bednar, “We Know More than Our Pastors (PDF)
  50. Paul Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” (Missiology 10, January 1982, 35-47)

There are a few of these that I haven’t even finished working through myself, but they form some initial thoughts. What’s missing is the obvious need for some of the more classical theological works, some material on hermeneutics, that sort of thing. The well-equipped library would also have a separate set of materials that one wouldn’t necessarily read through, but are excellent reference materials… The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (4 Vol. Set), and the sister-volumes, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters/a Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, and Dictionary of the Later New Testament Its Developments to name just a few. We understand that not everyone is going to purchase the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Volume Set).

As mentioned, I’ve omitted a rather large cross-section of traditional theological and hermeneutical tomes (if a book is about something as unweildy-sounding as “hermeneutics” you really need refer to it as not simply a book, but a tome, a folio, or a treatise). Partly this is because I think the typical M.Div program reading list will provide this already — my suggestions here are in part a pulling of the program in a particular direction. In addition, I think for most lay-scholars, separating out some of the fundamental reading materials of this type is a difficult task… most haven’t read enough of this type of material to sort the good from the bad… even the good ones can be dry enough. With more popular titles, this is a much easier task. Further, with some of the foundational works, sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate how much of an impact has been made, how valuable it is. The foundation stones just don’t sparkle the same as the ones on the archway. More importantly than the simple stretching of an analogy, I will shortly direct the reader to a more comprehensive listing of such titles.

There are other lists of reference materials to which one should refer separately in this regard… one of these by emergent friend D.A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey and the companion volume by Tremper Longmann III, Old Testament Commentary Survey. Even better than these surveys is one that was originally available for free (or for a few dollars plus postage, as my now-outdated copy was obtained) until it began to be published commercially… John Glynn’s Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources. There is also a compilation of 25 Recommended Non-Technical Biblical Resources published at Bible.org, complete with a list of 25 alternate titles. If such lists are of interest, so too might be a list published by Regent University, Introduction to Theological Research: A Selected List of Bibliographical Guides.

The greater question which has arisen of course, is the value of the M.Div and whether a “personal” M.Div is a realistic — or possible — undertaking. Discussion is on Jordan’s blog, but also note comments elsewhere by Scot McKnight. I wonder if a personal MBA is realistic as well… I know of one young MBA-endowed individual that some of us referred to as “Skippy” behind his back. It isn’t necessarily the designation that makes the man… such that sometimes an honorary degree may a better indicator than a “real” one, sometimes referred to as an earned degree so that everyone knows it isn’t as “lowly” as an honorary one. Excluding of course the type of honorary degrees that come in exchange for sizeable donations. Which brings us around to the argument that an M.Div that comes only as a personally-gauged exercise in speed-reading can hardly be expected to yield the desired result. In contrast comes the phrase I’ve mentioned once or twice on this blog… “The best theology is not in books. It’s in boots.” For this reason, the partial list of books I’ve given above contains a component of biography… but this is no substitute for first-hand experience. All things considered, I’d be one of those who suggest that you can’t find an M.Div in 25,000 pages or less. Or more, for that matter.

All that said, I do enjoy the listing of books. I’m one of those people who reads footnotes to find out from where an author draws the material he builds upon, his inspiration… there are many titles in my library discoverd in this way. But were we to change the premise, leaving out the pursuit of a degree-equivalent, we might ask the question differently, by creating a scenario. Suppose that an individual finds themself missionally-engaged, and eventually finds him/herself leading a small congregation of relatively new believers. Unable to pursue formal study amid the demands of job, family, and small congregation, there is time for reading and the pursuit of personal study. What resources should be acquired for (a) reading and study to gain a solid theological grounding and (b) to provide reference materials for future study of the Bible and various future topics and situations unknown?

In any event Jordan, we’ll be watching for the outcome in September’s inaugural Resonate Journal.

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