Best Books of 2014 – Non-Fiction

Community - Peter BlockI read 70 or so books last year, heavily weighted on the fiction side: of the non-fiction books, many were written by friends which no doubt added to my enjoyment of them. If you’ve still got giftcards or ebook credits to burn, here are some recommendations.

Top honours for 2014 goes to Peter Block’s book Community: the Structure of Belonging. An inspiring and eminently practical treatise on the power of voluntary associations of engaged citizens to effect transformation in their communities as well as an excellent primer on Asset Based Community Development. I found the writing style a little awkward at times, but the content is fantastic.

Journeying OutNext up is Journeying Out by Ann Morisy. The author offers an exploration of what she calls “venturesome love” as an alternative to the ‘meeting needs’ approach of a lot of Christian mission. Again, both inspiring and practical, I particularly appreciated the fact that many of her illustrative stories described the work of ordinary, older church folk.

New ParishThe New Parish is an excellent introduction to the shift in ecclesial imagination modeled by members of the Parish Collective, whose emphasis is “faithful presence” in the neighborhoods in which they live, while also maintaining global awareness and connection. The right blend of humility, openness and challenge, co-written by friends and colleagues Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen.

Thin PlacesIn a similar vein is Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley, friends on the Left Coast of the U.S. This slim volume outlines the 6 postures that shape the life of Nieu Communities and which flesh out the three values Jon and Rob draw from Jesus’ own participation in the Missio Dei: communion, community and commission. A helpful primer on one expression of missional community.

Slow Church Another take on re-imagining “church” is Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith (editor of the excellent Englewood Review of Books) and John Pattison. Writing from their own experiences of seeking more than the kind of passive, individualistic and consumer-oriented forms of the church that populate the American landscape, their book is thoughtful and helpfully laid-out.

 BiVoOne final book on the re-imagining church theme is BiVo by Hugh Halter. I read this along with his other recent book, Flesh, after hearing him speak at Sentralized. As churches wrestle with new financial realities, models based on paid staff and expensive buildings are being challenged through sheer necessity. The author outlines his own experience of church planting whilst being a house painter, and includes others’ stories of bi-vocational ministry.

Simply JesusIt’s a rare year that doesn’t find me reading at least one book by N. T. Wright, and 2014 was no exception. Simply Jesus is yet another tour de force about the life of Jesus as narrated in the four Gospels and its implications for the way we structure our lives today. Classic Wright – a stunning work. (I’m a bit of a fan.)

 Invisible GirlsOne of the many gifts I received at the Wild Goose Festival this summer was getting to meet Sarah Thebarge while taking shelter from a downpour. I read her memoir The Invisible Girls when I returned home and literally could not put it down. I was riveted by her interweaving of the account of her own struggle as a young woman with recurring and brutal bouts of breast cancer with the struggles of a family of Somali refugees she comes to befriend through a chance encounter when she moves to Portland. Beautifully told.

 prophetic imaginationFinally, in the “old friends” category, I re-read The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. His seminal work on the church as alternative community has shaped and re-shaped my imagination for what it means to be part of the Story of the God of Israel who is so profoundly concerned with justice and compassion, and Who calls us to the same. Ever-challenging: if you have not read it, do so.

As I make my list for 2015, what were your favourite non-fiction books of 2014?

Up next: Best Books of 2014 – fiction.

(I link to Amazon as a convenience and as a participant in their Associates Program. I encourage you to buy books where you want to see them sold.)

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