The 3 Best Books I Read in 2016

The 3 Best Books I Read in 2016

I love to read. My team makes fun of me for how often I reference a book that inspires me. That's ok. I love annoying them by dropping some literary knowledge. It makes them better people...or at least that is what I am convinced happens.

Normally I set a goal of reading 20 or so books every year, but this year I shifted gears and read fewer books but I studied them more. Instead of just reading, I took notes, journaled my thoughts, and took my time with the pages in my hand (This was also the first year I read physical books just as much as their digital equivalents). 

Why? I chose topics books and ideas that I thought were going to be foundational for the future of Empty Church. We take God's call on our lives seriously and we wanted to make sure we were understanding the why and the how of what we were doing. Foundational work requires more digging. So these are three best books I read (and studied) in 2016. 

Liturgical Theology - Simon Chan 

The Short Version:

The people of God are distinguished by their practices, but those practices are meaningless without faith in Jesus. A community is shaped around shared practices, "its own distinctiveness, shaped by its identity - it's defining stories." The Liturgy, when done in faithful worship to Jesus, best prepares people for this world and the world to come. 

The Long Version

Walking into many modern evangelical churches the term "worship" is usually restricted to the musical portion of the service. I am convinced that this has become the most meaningful part of the normal celebration because it is the only part that routinely provides audience participation.

A well-defined liturgy has many opportunities for audience participation. Reciting creeds, call-and-response Scripture reading, and passing the peace are just a few examples. The highlight formational experience that a church can offer is a proper Eucharist celebration. In recent years the commemoration of the Lord's supper has been reduced to a once-a-month occurrence. Some churches reserve it simply for "special" occasions. But the Lord's Supper teaches us so much about life as it is a reminder of our constant need for the presence of the Lord to be in our lives. 

Liturgy catches a bad rap in evangelical circles. The rote observance has left people thinking that liturgy equals boring, meaningless, and faith-numbing church attendance. These points are well founded and ring with truth. That doesn't mean that it has to be that way. 

A well-prepared liturgy needs a well-prepared congregation. The combination of the two is a beautiful representation of the body of Christ to a lost and chaotic world. 

Why you should read it: 

Read Liturgical Theology if you want to explore ways your church services can reclaim meaning and purpose and become a central fixture in the lives of a congregation. 

 


 

Visual Culture - Richard Howells and Joaquin Negreiros

The Short Version:

Art is a language all its own. To many, it is a foreign language in which few are literate. You can look a painting hanging in a gallery or watch cinemas in a theater and admire the beauty of our visual culture on a surface level. But art conveys meaning and meaning influences culture.  That is what this book is about - "it explores how meaning is made and transmitted in a visual world."

The Long Version: 

I can't tell you how many books I read last year that included Marshal McLuhan's oft-quoted maxim, "The medium is the message."  McLuhan was pointing out that the way the message is communicated to us - tv, radio, canvas, and paint, etc., - is just as, if not more important than the message itself. If this is true, and I believe it is, than any Christian who heeds the call to communicate the gospel to a media-saturated culture had better pay attention to both medium and message. 

This is not a "Christian" book. It is an academic overview of the arts. Providing interpretative clues about iconography, jump cuts, and album artwork, Howells takes the reader on a journey through the history of art with a focus on finding the meaning behind the art. 

Howells uses a point - counterpoint style to discuss various methods of artistic interpretation. He states his views and then does his best to raise the counter argument to his own views. This allows the reader to make the decision. I appreciate this. 

If you think watching TV and surfing the web are just modes of entertainment that will not affect your mind and your soul,  this book will change your perspective. Every artist is communicating something either overtly or subtly. Will you be able to see the clues? 

Why you should read it: 

Do you want to know the real interpretation of The Beatles' Abbey Road album cover?  The answer is in this book. Not a Beatles fan? Then this book will help you look critically at all forms of art, from the museum to the living room. You will be surprised and what you are being told. 

 


 

Prophetic Lament - Soong-Chan Rah

The Short Version: 

We do all we can to avoid sadness and lament - especially when we are actively seeking to maintain a theology of celebration and proper lifestyle management that seeks "constancy and sustainability." This seeking of a celebratory faith misses the point of the book of Lamentations. What is faith to those who have lost everything and suffered every injustice? What of those whose faith starts, not with a song, but with a cry? 

The Long Version:

There is a sharp divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots." The divide is seen in social status, bank accounts, and among Christians, even their theology. Those that have it all, or seem to, focus on the celebration and sustainability of their lifestyle. The problem is this way of life can lead to a spiritual complacency and that always leads to sin. 

Jerusalem was the ultimate representation of a people who had it all. It was the Queen City whose God protected and provided. It was a point of pride. When the Israelites began to take God's presence and provision for granted they slipped into a sinful lifestyle. As much as they counted on God's grace they discounted his faithfulness and justice. 

Jerusalem's sin led to God's punishment. God had made a covenant with his people that if they would be faithful to  him he would be look favorable upon them, but if they were to stray and become sinful he would bring judgement upon their sin.  As unkind as that may seem to us, Soong-Chan Rah reminds us that a God that is unfaithful in keeping his promise to punish sin would also be unfaithful in his promise to forgive. We triumph God's grace and forgiveness because it feels great and sells well, but we tuck judgment under the pillow because no one like to talk about it. 

When God's judgement came upon Jerusalem the people mourned and Jeremiah penned a series of poems describing the state of his beloved city. We call this book Lamentations. It was an honest assessment of the current situation and a desperate cry for a glimmer of hope. 

Lament is a form of worship that the "haves" rarely, if ever, experience. Therefore their faith is lopsided and frail. Seeking only celebration and feeling good, the frail faith void of the ability to lament will become self-serving, egotistical, and sinful. 

This book helps us realize how much we are like Jerusalem and how much God will remember his promises to us. 

 

Why you should read it:

The first reason is because it will help you track along with our next large series here at Empty Church. We start our New Year off with a cry instead of a party and reading this will help you figure out why. You can sign up here to have it all delivered to your email

Apart from that, this book addresses celebration and suffering in a way that I have never come across before. The answer of hope, reconciliation, and true freedom may not be found in conquering warrior style Christianity. Rather it can be found in the faithfulness of God who hears the cries of his people. This book will stretch your faith and give you new eyes to see. 

 

About the Author | Josh Schaidt TwitterFacebookInstagram
I love cookies and I still buy music one album at a time. @EmptyChurch is one way I live empty, talk faith, and opt in to follow Jesus.

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