Book Recommendations: Looking at Our Contexts
I've talked a lot over the past few weeks about contextual awareness and the importance of thinking theologically about our contexts. So, today I thought I'd throw out a few book suggestions that take it to the next level. This will be the first time of many that I share book recommendations, so if you're into that sort of thing, get excited. Today I have six for you, each in a different genre. Every one of these has helped me for peel back the layers of my own identity and the nature of this complex world. Enjoy :)
Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World, Paula Harris & Doug Schappe (Christian ethnic studies)
Most white people I know who have struggled with "our place in a multiethnic world" pass through a few stages in this journey, moving from ignorance, to shock, to highly self-critical, and hopefully at last into a stage of rebuilding. This book was a significant gift to me when I was trying to move through these last couple stages and recapture the good in my white identity.
Harris and Schappe wrestle with what it means to be white when it is white people have been the perpetrators of much of the world's colonization, exploitation and oppression over the past several centuries. What does it mean to have this history and yet be made in the image of God? What things must we leave behind about our heritage, and what things can we celebrate? Their treatment of these questions and others is splendid--a very healthy blend of the prophetic and pastoral.
A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present, Howard Zin
The English historian Thomas Carlyle claimed that history is the biography of great individuals. Zinn disagrees. He thinks that it is not history itself, but the stories of history we have been telling about history that are about so called "great individuals." And it's time we tell better stories.
A People's History tells each era of America's past from the perspective of the powerless: the indigenous peoples, African slaves, women, Chinese immigrants, and so on. It is often a sobering account, revealing how expansive the oppression that sullies our nation's history actually is. But they are stories we need to hear in order to honor those who have been trampled by "great individuals," to gain a more accurate and less romantic view of the United States, and to fight against repeating these injustices in our generation.
Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Churches and Ethnicities, Mark Lau Branson & Juan E. Martinez
(Multicultural Christian Leadership)
Branson and Martinez lay down a substantial challenge to church leaders. They call us to consider what the call of the gospel is for the Body of Christ that has been fractured for so long on ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic lines. They do a great job of melding theological reflection with the social sciences in the effort “to help men and women in our churches to see differently and to gain the skills and competencies needed for multicultural contexts.”
I was particularly helped by their identification of the founding myths of American culture. As the authors point out, “majority-culture evangelicals do not have the proper tools to understand the dynamic of race relations in the United States.” This book is a powerful effort to make up that gap, not only through its own contributions but also through the wealth of outside resources they point to.
Encounter God in the City: Onramps to Personal and Community Transformation, Randy White
(Christian Community Development)
Randy White is one of my professors at seminary--a large part of why I chose the seminary that I'm at--and someone to whom I am greatly indebted both personally and educationally. In this book he challenges his readers to "see" the city with new eyes, to see it with the love of God and to acquire God's vision and hope for its future.
One of the best parts about this book, and the reason why I am including it on this list, is actually in the appendixes where White lays out a comprehensive strategy for assessing the characteristics of urban contexts. No matter how long you have lived in a place, follow his steps and learn more about the world around you than you ever imagined exists.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Leslie Newbigin
This book is amazing. Newbigin--who is famous for returning from years as a missionary in India and taking a missionary's eye to Western culture--accomplishes more with greater brilliance in each chapter than in most books I've read. I took it one a solo camping trip last May, staked up by a river and totally lost myself in his writing as my paradigms were blasted over and over.
Part contextual analysis, part philosophical treatise, part apologetics, part theological system, part missiological imperative for the modern church--buy, steal or borrow it and learn something amazing.
Learning About Theology from the Third World, William Dyrness
For most of the Church's history, theology was written within the fairly culturally homogeneous confines of Western Europe by white men. Over that time, the generally accepted sources of theological reflection were scripture, tradition, reason and religious experience, weighted in that order within Protestantism. As the Christian faith has spread to every nation on the planet we have had to realize that culture has a significant impact on our interpretation of the bible, allowing us to "see" or miss various messages from the same stories.
This book has contributed to my beliefs on how to "do theology" (which I talk abouthere) more than any other. Dyrness identifies four different ways that people use Scripture and context together to generate theology, and offers what I have found to be a highly insightful approach which allows us interweave the two while still giving a healthy prioritization to the text. The end result is a theological process that offers critique to both cultural forms that err from the ways of Jesus and overly parochial theologies that fail to speak into the lifeworld of particular peoples.