Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Reading

I love summers. I also love that there are so many good books to read. And sometimes, when I am lucky, the stars align and I am able to enjoy both at the same time. Hooray!

I have a few thoughts on some books I have been reading but before I get to that, I would like to share a few thoughts on reading:

I have two friends who in the span of two days, or maybe it was on the same day, said to me the following things: "Ben, you read too much!" and, "I don't understand how people read!" (Disclaimer: I have large amounts of care and respect for both of these people. I admire them and am inspired by them in many ways. Just not when it comes to reading.)

I think a little piece of me died when they said those things. But good thing Jesus is in the resurrection business! It really isn't as dramatic as I made it sound just there.

I have now started five paragraphs in a row with "I." Self-important much?

If I kept a list of things that were vital to my growth as a human being, reading would be in the top five because I wouldn't count necessities and there have to be at least four other things that are more important than reading, I just can't think of them right now. Reading helps me learn what I didn't know I didn't know. It opens me up to entirely new worlds of possibilities and ideas.

Sometimes it borders on obsession. Like I have some compulsive need to constantly fill my brain with words that other people wrote. Sometimes one isn't enough. I will read like 4 or 5 books at a time. They will all be in various stages of completion based on how important I feel they are to finish. I will be reading one and really enjoying it and see another book that looks interesting and then put the first one down, start and finish the new one, and then finish the first one (see the post below with Culture Making and The Reason for God).

But how can you think that reading is weird or that people who do it are weird? Come on!

Ok, on to the books.

One of my goals this summer is to read books by minority authors. These books have typically been about the topic of multi-ethnicity. Having said that, the first book I want to talk about is by two really white guys.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians
by Rob Bell and Don Golden

Remember that preaching conference I went to back in July? No? Read this post and then come back to this one. Done? Ok. Well, at said conference, the Zondervan publishing table was giving away free ebooks and audio books of this book. I gladly accepted the free offer (who wouldn't?) and proceeded to download the audio and burn it on to 3 CD's. So I guess if we want to get super technical about it, I haven't actually READ this book. I have listened to it twice.

This book (And the next one I will talk about) most certainly falls into the category of books that are re-shaping my theology and views on my faith and the role of the church and stuff like that. And all in a good way. I feel like my understanding is getting bigger and more compelling.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians is essentially a "New Exodus Theology for Dummies" book. The authors walk the reader . . . er . . . listener in my case, through the Bible viewing it through the lens of this perspective. New Exodus theology, as I understand it, mostly from this book, states that the main narrative of Scripture is that of God bringing all of his creation out of slavery and bondage. This is a very interesting reading of the Bible and I like it. I had heard whisperings of it in different places but this was the most developed I have seen it. The Exodus found in the book of Exodus serves as a precursor to the big exodus that is happening right now. Jesus was the passover lamb for all creation and following him allows us to "escape from Egypt" so to speak. Wow, that doesn't make any sense when I explain it here but it does in the book. Probably because they use the whole book to develop it.

One of the things I liked most about this book was how they called out America and the American church on a lot of things. America is an empire. Make no mistake. The Bible was written by people who were oppressed by a foreign empire. This perspective is crucial to understanding Scripture but often gets lost to those of us who are children of the empire. Here is one of my favorite quotes.

"Jesus was a middle eastern man who lived in an occupied country and was killed by the superpower of his day." There is something to think about . . .

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah

I was first introduced to Soong-Chan Rah (Prof Rah) at a conference called "Shalom." It was an InterVarsity conference dealing with the topics of race, ethnicity, and reconciliation. Prof Rah brought the thunder that weekend. He said some really challenging things and I have had an enormous amount of respect and admiration for him ever since. So I was very excited to see that he had written a book. I bought it with a sweet IV Staff discount. BOOYAH!

Rah's basic premise is that the church in America has been held captive by western culture. Because of this, American Christianity resembles Biblical Christianity less and less. This is becoming a problem because the demographics of the USA are changing dramatically, as are the demographics of global Christianity. Multi-ethnic, minority, and immigrant churches are thriving while predominantly white churches are declining. How will the white church respond to this?

This book was super challenging and super important. Each chapter brought up new things that I had never really thought about but know that I need to now. What has been the impact of globalization when the Christianity that is exported to the world is dominated by western culture? That one was troublesome.

Prof Rah claims that the church in America is captive to western culture in three main ways: Individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism. It is tough to argue with his points as he has done a ton of research and has personal experience with all of them. These things have a broad effect on the church and eh spends much of the book filling those out.

A section I found particularly interesting and engaging was his take on the "emerging church." Why is it that the only people who are seen as leaders in the emerging church are white men? Why is that church noticed but the Korean immigrant church (which has been very successful and is growing very quickly) is totally overlooked?

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has had a feeling lately that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Be prepared to wrestle your way through it but to come out on the other side with a much wider perspective.

Invitation to Lead by Paul Tokunaga

This book topped my list of ones I wanted to read this summer. I help to lead a college fellowship and there have been a number of gifted young Asian-American students who have become leaders in our group. I see this as a huge gift with a lot of potential and I wanted to do everything I could to learn how to lead them well and train them to be the best leaders they can be. This book seemed perfect because that is what it is about: Asian-American leadership.

Paul Tokunaga (Tok, as people call him) has been a pioneer in Asian-American leadership in InterVarsity. He has blazed a trail that many have been able to follow. I have little doubt that he will go down in IV history as one of the most significant leaders of the movement. The book is basically a simultaneous journey through his own development as a leader and what he has learned about AA leadership over the years. I found it to be very enlightening, fun, and powerful. He is a very accessible writer who connects with his audience well. Even though the book was primarily written TO potential AA leaders, a white guy like me can still enjoy it thoroughly and learn a lot. I have recommended it to my AA students and I look forward to discussing it with them when they finish.

Too bad they are the ones who don't like to read. Ugh.


  1. I've read over 2,000 pages in August alone. Just saying. :)

  2. Um. Eugene Cho did an interview with Prof Rah on his blog... its really good, talking about that book. And, what Shalom was that?

    Finally, reading is like life and water.

    I don't understand people that don't read... thankfully I don't know very many.

    Man. That sounds um, privileged and ridiculous. Huh. There just isn't a good way to put that... maybe I am privileged and ridiculous about reading.

  3. "They will all be in various stages of completion based on how important I feel they are to finish. I will be reading one and really enjoying it and see another book that looks interesting and then put the first one down, start and finish the new one, and then finish the first one"

    Lol - I totally do that too! People think I'm crazy. I probably am. :P