Book Reviews: From theology to thrillers – a bishop’s reading list

By Bishop Larry Goodpaster, Special Contributor…

Editor’s note: Bishop Goodpaster shares brief reflections on the books he read in the second half of 2012.

The Faith of Leap by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (Baker Books, 2011)

My first read of this book was done quickly because I could not put it down. My second read was slower as I pondered the deep challenges to our ways of “doing” church and of faith-matters. The book’s subtitle says it all: “Embracing a theology of risk, adventure, and courage.” Over time many believers have become averse to

Bishop Larry Goodpaster

taking risks, settling for the comfortable and easy way. Here we are invited to ponder and then order our lives in a different way. Citing many examples of people who populate the pages of Scripture, the authors challenge us to risky faith. They write, “All disciples of Jesus (not just a select few) are called to an ongoing, risky, actional, extravagant way of life . . . and yes, Christlike faithfulness. . . .”

This book should come with a warning label: May be dangerous if read and practiced.

Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today by Christopher A. Beeley (Eerdmans, 2012)

With so many books that address issues of leadership now available, yet another one does not always generate excitement. After all, how many lists, qualities and practices can you read about before sensory overload takes charge? I chose this one because I was intrigued by the subject matter: leadership in the church (especially pastoral leadership), but leadership in the context of the writings of the early church fathers and mothers, the desert writings, and the early first centuries of Christianity. There is much to learn from Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo, Ignatius of Antioch, and Origen of Alexandria. All offer many relevant insights that are still very applicable to our 21st-century world.

Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo (Thomas Nelson, 2012)

For several years now, Dr. Campolo and others have been urging believers to pay particular attention to, and obedience to, the words of Jesus. Thus, the “red letter” reference in his latest book’s title. He and Mr. Claiborne engage in a wide-ranging dialogue about various issues confronting us in these days: liturgy, economics, family, politics, immigration, war and violence. The book is written as an exchange between the two, and some chapters are better than others. As a whole they wrestle with what it means to follow Jesus and to take the teachings of Jesus with utmost seriousness. Above all, I would say, do not expect easy, convenient or comfortable answers.

Five Minds for the Future, by Howard Gardner (Harvard Business School Press, 2009)

This book has been in my “waiting to read” stack for more than four years, and I finally got to it. It was worth the wait. Dr. Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes primarily from the perspective of what is needed in and through our educational systems. However, I found these “five minds” critically important for all fields of life. It was not difficult to connect in theological terms. The five minds: disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical. In the back of my mind as I read were Scriptural texts like Philippians 2 (“having the mind of Christ”) and Romans 12 (the “renewing of your mind”).

A Testament of Devotion, by Thomas R. Kelly (HarperOne, reprint)

This is one of those classic spiritual formation books—first published in 1941—that continues to inspire. Even in this 21st-century world, Kelly’s insights about the Divine Center, and about seeking silence and stillness in a hectic time, are as relevant as ever. Spiritual, servant leaders are formed through “unreserved obedience” to Christ. In all our efforts to “do” and “create” and “make,” we need to be reminded and to practice a holy obedience.

Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, by Phyllis Tickle (Baker Books, 2012)

Following her previous book, The Great Emergence, Ms. Tickle continues to reflect on the current and future state of Christianity, particularly in the U.S. and the Western world. While no one can predict directions or expressions the faith may take, this is an incredible time of transition, upheaval and renewing the faith, with major implications for the church. Highly recommended reading if for no reason other than to think seriously about what we do now as faithful disciples.

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2011)

Mr. Kinnaman is also the author of unChristian from a few years ago. This book, based on research from the Barna Group, explores those young adults of the millennial generation who have left the church, but not necessarily Jesus! He categorizes them in three categories: nomads, exiles and prodigals. This one is very helpful reading to understand and hopefully connect with a generation that is missing in far too many of our churches.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, from The Arbinger Institute (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010)

This is one of the best “leadership” books I have read in recent years. It has been around for a number of years, with the second edition published in 2010. Most of us live in “boxes” of conformity and expected ideas. We do not necessarily rock the boat. And, we deceive ourselves! Told from the perspective of an individual learning a different way of living and leading, this book invites us to change ourselves and to transform our organizations (think, “church”).

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else, by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2012)

Unlike other Lencioni books, this one is not told as a “fable” or “story” that teaches important lessons. Rather, this is a straightforward way of assessing who we are and what we do. At the heart are six critical questions that every organization must answer if it is to be healthy (and “vital”), now and into the future. The district superintendents and conference staff in the Western North Carolina Conference joined me in reading this and in working on the answers to those questions. A must read!

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012)

All of us develop and keep habits; and some wonder how to break a few. This book is an amazing collection of stories and information about “habits,” and how we move in fresh new directions that make a positive impact on life, business (“church”) and culture. It includes research into brain activity, and into how we learn or unlearn habits that affect various facets of life. While some of this is heavy with scientific/medical reporting, the stories make all the difference. Good reading! Better insights into not only “why” but “how” we change.

Right Questions for Church Leaders: 2012 Collection, by Lovett Weems (Lewis Center for Church Leadership, e-book or PDF)

Here’s a small, handy reference book filled with questions that help lead churches and individuals. It is a collection of “right questions” that have been included in Dr. Weems’ newsletters over the years. This can be a good source for those who want to lead church in new directions.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin (Portfolio Hardcover, 2008)

A fascinating book about how we come together and move together, and about “belonging.” Here are insights about people who are connected, who share a common interest and ways of communicating, and who connect for growth and impact. In the midst of this, there is an invitation (and challenge) for leaders to engage and build community that makes a difference.

Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Books, 2012 reprint)

This book is one of those “big picture” views of our world and our history. Dr. Ferguson explores many civilizations that have come and gone, flourished and diminished over the last several centuries. It is a perspective that we need to have a sense that it is not all about us and our ways of living and doing. I found this a wonderful investment of my reading time if for no other reason than to understand where we are now and what the future might be.

The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs Is a Little Perspective, by Andy Andrews (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

Interesting and entertaining. . . . The key, as the title suggests, is that we all need to learn to pay attention to what is happening around us, to people and to relationships, and to our attitudes. It is told as a story of one who enters the lives of people and teaches those lessons. While we all need to develop that approach, the title is sufficient for getting the point.

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry (Penguin Books, 2012)

One of my interests is history, and particularly those events and people who helped shape and guide our country and our way of living and ordering ourselves. This is a wonderful account of one of those early pioneers who ventured to these shores. Most of my knowledge of Roger Williams was associated with and limited to the Rhode Island experience, but there is more to the story. I found Mr. Barry’s book a helpful re-introduction to Roger Williams.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre (Crown, 2012)

More history reading! I had heard only inklings of this part of the story of the D-Day invasion. I was captivated by the telling of the stories and lives of so many people who were involved in counter-intelligence for years. As might be expected, the people were a collection of intriguing personalities, not all of them of character or hero-like abilities. But together, they had an impact on the outcome. Intrigue. Deception. Fun reading!

Some final brief comments: Lest anyone think that my reading is limited to books related only to the tasks at hand, there were several novels that relaxed and entertained me, including three novels in a series by Phillip Margolin (Executive Privilege, Supreme Justice and Capitol Murder). And for good measure, another of David Baldacci’s “Camel Club” novels, Stone Cold, Daniel Silva’s The Fallen Angel and Kathy Reichs’ latest, Bones Are Forever.

Bishop Goodpaster leads the Western North Carolina Conference and is a former president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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