Sabbatical Reading

I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical from November, 2009 through January, 2010.  I thought I would use part of this blog to summarize the reading I did on that sabbatical.

While a big focus of my sabbatical was rest (I was pretty burned out before I left), I also wanted to spend some time reading and studying about the church.  It seems to me that a lot of people are saying lots of things about what the church should or shouldn’t do, or about how Christians should or should not be involved in a church, without articulating a clear idea of what the church actually is.  There is a lot of ink being spilled (and bytes being posted) about missional church, organic church, emergent church, emerging church, megachurch, house churches, and lot of other variations on the theme.  But it seems to me that lots of people who comment on these trends – both advocating for and arguing against – do so based on their assumption of what church is or should be, without defending that assumption in any way.  As a result, people end up talking past each other instead of to each other.

So as I approached the “study” part of my sabbatical, I wanted to start by looking at the theology of the church, and then move to practical suggestions for how to “do” church.  I firmly believe that doing follows being, and that our activity should come our of our identity.  So I thought it appropriate to first address the question, “What is the church?” before looking at the question of “What is the church to do?”  And of course, as best I could, I wanted to answer these questions from God’s perspective as he’s revealed that in Scripture.

The first two books I read were Evangelical Ecclesiology (John Stackhouse, ed.) and The Church in the Bible and the World (D. A. Carson, ed.).  They are both collections of essays by several scholars.  The one by Carson is a bit dated; it was originally printed in 1987.  The one edited by Stackhouse came out of a consultation held in 2002.  I read these concurrently, alternating back and forth between them.

I had planned to read next The Concept of Church by Herwi Rikhof, because I wanted to explore more the idea of how metaphors are used in Scripture to describe the church.  As I read his introduction, however, I realized that he was going to be interacting quite a bit with Lumen Gentium, which is the document on the church produced at Vatican II.  So I decided I should read that document.

At about this point in my sabbatical, I realized that I was not going to have time to read all the books I had wanted to.  I thought that I should focus more on the books that would have the most direct and helpful impact.  So I decided to forgo Rikhof’s book and move on.  I also wanted to read a book by one author that developed a line of reasoning, to complement the collections of essays I had read.  So, I read Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community by Simon Chan, then started After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity by Miroslav Volf.

After reading Volf’s book especially, I felt like I had the basic theological grounding I had been looking for, and was ready to move on to books that were more about how we should “do church.”  The first book I read in this regard was Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches by John S. Hammett.  (This book actually does a decent job of addressing both the “be” and “do” sides of church.)  Even though, as the title indicates, it is written for Baptists, there was a lot in there that was helpful and thought-provoking.  I then read The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  I finished by reading Why We Love the Church: In Defense of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

If you are a “theological junkie” who enjoys reading more academically oriented books, then you might want to read my reviews in the order I wrote them.  If you are wanting to “cut to the chase” and aren’t as worried about thinking through the biblical and theological foundational stuff, you might want to read my reviews in reverse order.  Start with Why We Love the Church and The Tangible Kingdom, then Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches.  The least helpful book to me was Liturgical Theology, and definitely the most densely packed was After Our Likeness.

Most of my reflections are between 13 and 17 pages.  I tried to include page numbers where I quoted directly from the book, but I did not write these to conform to formal reference standards. You will notice ratings for each book on difficulty, helpfulness, and agreement.  These are completely personal and subjective.  “Difficulty” refers to how easy or hard the book is to read, with 10 being the most difficult.  “Helpfulness” refers to how helpful I personally found the book to be in accomplishing the purpose of my sabbatical study project (10 indicating the most helpful).  “Agreement” refers to the degree to which I agreed with the perspective of the author(s), with 10 indicating complete agreement.

Feel free to comment on this or any of the postings and I’ll try to respond.  Or, just read the reflections and bask in the glow of my brilliant insights.

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 11:28 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Tim,
    Looks like a great resource for those who are interested in the anatomy of the Church. I am looking forward to reading some of your reviews and putting some books on my ever-growing “to read” list.

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