Sunday, July 08, 2007

my most significant emerging and missional books

Just had an interesting email from a graduate student, asking my opinion of the most significant emerging and missional books. So below are the texts I consider significant, with a brief comment as to why. For me, significant is different from popular, which if you want that, you can check through google rankings and blog crushes. I have also separated out emerging from missional.

Can anyone spot the thing that disturbs me the most about this list?


Beaudoin, Tom. Virtual Faith. Jossey Bass, 2000. Takes seriously the narratives of contemporary culture.

Drane, John. McDonaldization of the church. DLT, 2000. Excellent use of sociology to diagnose, from a thinker who is close enough to spirituality of culture to be worth listening to.

Gibbs, Eddie and Ryan Bolger. Emerging Churches. Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Baker, 2005. Best overview of what is, compared with what is dreamed. Uses narratives well (although leader based, not congregational based)

McLaren, Brian, A New Kind of Christian, Jossey Bass, 2001. Brian is a poet who named something that caused enormous resonances and that needs listening to.

Murray, Stuart, Church after Christendom, Paternoster, 2005. Surveys a broad range of current experiments in an honest and affirming manner.

Taylor, Steve, The out of bounds church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Zondervan, 2005. Uses real congregations to both critique and affirm emerging church.


Branson, Mark Lau. Memories, Hopes and Conversations. Appreciative Enquiry and Congregational Change. Virginia: Alban Institute, 2004. Grounded practical research into power of congregational narratives as source of change.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life, Vol 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Dated but essential because it offers frameworks for cultural change (which surely is what missional church is about) and how that can be researched.

Roxburgh, Alan and Fred Romanuk. The Missional Leader. Equipping Your Church To Reach a Changing World, San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2006. The primer text.

Roxburgh, Alan, Reaching a New Generation. Strategies for Tomorrow’s Church. Downers Grove, IVP, 1993. Not widely discussed, but essential reading for how reading a (postmodern) context can change mission.

Ward, Graham. Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Superb theoretical basis for missional church.

Posted by steve at 10:19 PM


  1. A Talmudic moment remembered from a Rabbi friend: Why are women not obligated in learning Talmud? Take the example of the situation of a mouse running across the floor of a house that has just been cleaned for passover. It has a fragment of a crust of bread in its mouth.

    What do the men do? They spend many hours on intense argument, complete with footnotes and commentaries, on the correct course of action to take.

    What do the women do? They take a broom and sweep that area of the floor again.

    Warmest blessings from a women who does not have time to write books (but is grateful nonetheless to those who write them.)

    Sister under private vows

    Comment by Eleanor Burne-Jones — July 9, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  2. Thank you, Eleanor, for the Talmudic moment.

    I echo Eleanor’s warmest blessings to you, Steve.

    Comment by Dana Ames — July 9, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  3. Eleanor, at the risk of sending a mouse back to the hole, I would like to ask the following:

    1- are women are taking the broom and just doing it, cos it seems to me that emerging churches are mainly run by men, not women

    2- is there a danger of your analogy that men keep arguing, when in fact we might all need each other, and so men need womens voices.

    3 – why is it that in my living the text in a contemporary context course, that i am about to teach this week at Fuller, the ratio of male to female in the bibliography is 50/50. i make a striving for a bibliography that includes a diversity of voices. so why is it is so hard to find this in the emerging church conversation?

    4 – when i started planting my first emerging church i felt so alone and isolated and undervalued. i felt on the margins and voiceless. how is it that despite my marginality, i have ended up some sort of voice in yet another movement that has marginalised. what do i need to change in my behaviours and patterns?


    Comment by steve — July 9, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  4. Where are the Asian, South American and African voices? Apart from the odd one or two books, aren’t all from an American perspective as well? Hmmm. I wonder what other people from other cultures have to say on the subjects of emerging and missional church.

    Comment by wokboy — July 9, 2007 @ 10:54 pm

  5. Whether emerging has marginalised (and is the male dominated, ethnocentric, middle class movement that it would appear)is questionable.

    I think there are no simple answers here. On one level the “names” within emerging are predominantly male & so it is males being commissioned to write books. Secondly, many of the women involved appear to be wives and mothers with families, (which makes sense if we think of the ages of many practitioners involved) – and much as we like to pretend it doesn’t that does make a difference.
    Thirdly a number of the books appear to be coming out of Phd work and if we are frank about it many of the women producing post-grad work within theological departments are still fighting battles which should have been laid to rest way back in the last century, or dealing with wider issues of invisibility.
    Finally for all the talk of equality involved in emerging one does have to recognise it’s history and where it has come / broken free from.

    All that said I much prefer Eleanor’s answer.

    Comment by Sally — July 9, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

  6. My first thought was that it might disturb you that your own book is on the list.

    Comment by Will — July 10, 2007 @ 8:46 am

  7. cheers will. i nearly didn’t put it down, being all shy and that.

    but then i recalled that last week i referred to my book twice while teaching a group of anglican vicars. and when i remembered that I thought “well, i could be bashful and not put it up, but that would mean i’m not being honest about what are, for me, the most significant books ie books that i use and reuse on a regular basis.

    peace, steve

    Comment by steve — July 10, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  8. Steve, you are aware and trying, in whatever ways you are able, to do things differently. Stay open- and don’t beat yourself up, brother!

    As Sally said, there’s more than one thing to be considered. There are emerging churches that are being led by both men and women, but they’re not the ones writing the books. Publishers want “known quantities” that will sell copies, even if that known quantity is no more than reputation.

    I don’t know how it is in NZ, but in the US most of us are emerging from interpretations of scripture that relegate women to cooking and child care. A large swathe of people, even though they would be favorable in principle toward hearing from women equally, are simply not used to it. It’s going to take more time and persistence here, because there’s just a large chunk of non-emerging people who are, frankly, fighting in academia as Sally said, but also, I think, fighting harder elsewhere to keep those interpretations in place and in force. Some of those who are fighting are very loud.

    Fuller is a different sort of school- too “liberal” for most “conservatives” and not “progressive” enough for people at the other end of the spectrum. Which probably makes it a good place to be. They are fortunate to be hearing from you.

    Dana Ames
    Ukiah California
    too far away for the Fuller summer session-

    Comment by Dana Ames — July 10, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  9. PS- If NT Wright can reference his own books, surely you can 🙂

    Comment by Dana Ames — July 10, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  10. wokboy, let me be honest and then you can feel free to tear me to shreds.

    i’m torn in two over what you say. here are my contradictions.

    when i walk Asian streets of poverty, they are watching american TV shows. Western culture globalises everything it meets. sure there are thriving Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. but can that missiology be transplanted? or are there unique challenges about the cannabalising dimensions of Western culture, that we in the West only can face ….

    But; while i live in the West, i read missiology (shaped by Africa, Asia) and I apply that to my context. so i feel that i am being shaped by non-Western voices? is that enough

    so i am torn on in this non-Western thing. am i an arrogant imperialist who simply needs to learn from thriving African churches? or is that in time globalisation will eat the heart out of these thriving churches as West meets East, and so I, in the West, need to keep focusing on my West?

    Lord, Son of David have mercy on me. Through thy servants Eleanor and Sally and Wokboy, rub the mud out of my eye, so that I might truly see,


    Comment by steve — July 10, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  11. Steve,

    Cwhat is missing on this list is the voice of Australians!

    Ozzi, Ozzi, Ozzi, etc.


    Comment by Andrea — July 10, 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  12. Steve,

    Noticed your book and your comment on it and it reminded me of something I heard Jack Hayford say. When someone complements you on a great message or book or whatever one of our best responses that reflects humility is thank you! Just wanted to say thanks for your work from the east coast of Georgia. My wife and I right on the verge of planting and desire that the work reflects a mission shaped ethos. Thanks for being a bridge-builder in the ongoing conversation.

    Comment by Tommy — July 11, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  13. Well, Tommy, what can I say, accept “thankyou.” 🙂 i trust that the planting gets well.

    and i don’t want to just be a bridge builder, i want also to be a bridge that people actually walk across. i want to be able to re-write this list of “significant” books and be able to name women authors. Perhaps that could be your wife,


    Comment by steve — July 11, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  14. i think women write very differently to men, and that the emerging church isn’t ready for that kind of writing.

    Comment by cheryl — July 11, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

  15. Fair comments Steve. I guess I was coming from a position of being a foreigner living in Asia, where it can be easy for me to be elevated to a position of “authority” based on the colour of my skin. I am concerned that we (as the Western church) come to Asia to plant churches when we could learn so much from those in Asia who have planted 100s & 1000’s of churches.
    It does concern me though that Western culture permeates everywhere, as it is often the low beneficial stuff that gets transplanted.
    It is an area where we have to engage one another. I was reading the other day that the NZ prime minister said that the whole country needs to engage Asia – unfortunately, yourself and others similar aside, this isn’t really happening and unfortunately there is still an imperialist thinking just under the surface which has entered Christian culture – we send out missos to save the lost (try transplanting the word lost with heathen). What about engaging each other to see how the Kingdom of God is evident in our different cultures.
    As a brother I encourage you to continue to be challenge by those outside of our box of Western theology. Let us pray that gobilisation doesn’t kill all the unique and beautiful and God ordained cultures that it encounters. Blessings.

    Comment by wokboy — July 12, 2007 @ 4:13 am

  16. Cheryl, pondering your comment, hoping that one day I may be ready (mature?grown up enough?) to engage your writing. and also making some links with your latest blog post “on writing” and wondering if i need to stop writing, in order to let others gain voice. yet i am starting to cry as i write this above sentence, because when i write i feel God’s pleasure the most, and so to not write would be a denial of my life gift.

    Wokboy, another thought that comes to mind is this: when i talk to young Asian Christians, they often play back to me an imported faith and some sense of being deeply trapped by Western forms of Christianity.

    i had a great experience last year in a class with Japanese and Korean/american students. i learnt from them. i also heard them learn from me, as i told my my emerging church story, and they seemed relieved, and challenged, as they realised that they needed to find their own unique voice.

    what i am wondering is this: might Asian Christian churches actually need to peel off some impossed colonial layers first, before a real Kingdom and contextual conversation might emerge. and might that be part of the gift of the Western emerging church to them, to give them courage to peel, and then for the Western church to become listeners and learners.


    Comment by steve — July 12, 2007 @ 4:33 am

  17. Steve, the quote on my blog jumped out at me purely in relation to the argument that’s raging in australia at the moment about the government’s policies with indigenous people. i didn’t write the quote in relation to this issue at all.

    i have an audience, though i don’t actually look for one – i like being hidden… [there’s so much more freedom under the radar!]. i write to know what i think, not to be read. which is probably caused by the very strong introvert in me…i feel no compulsion to be published, and have turned down offers. [i have actually been published many times, both in australia and the US in youth ministry and christian education fields]. i’ll take up a publishing offer only if it’s the right time, and if it will be of benefit to the project i’m working on. that being said, I’m published regularly in a major secular newspaper in melbourne, they estimate the audience for those articles to be over 1 million.

    i do find it weird that a publishing company decides who should be listened to, and the very medium of books [and blogs] excludes the voices that have challenged me most – those who are illiterate, or who write in a way that western publishers don’t consider readable. i think books are useful, but i wonder if we overemphasise them. to be honest, none of us are that important that we need to be published, the world will live quite well without hearing our message.

    i very rarely buy books written by males… i read so many blogs by males that i need to redress the balance elsewhere [which is where my comment about writing styles come from – there are very few males i read where the writing style lets me resonate easily, or lose myself in their books. i find myself translating often. but women – and maybe asians, wokboy? – have learnt to do that. white men haven’t really had to]. my theological diet is largely made up of stuff written by women, indigenous people and asians. i read stuff about contemporary culture, and i try to make the missiological links myself. [i probably get them wrong!]

    i guess, in a very rambly way, i’m trying to say that i think we’re asking the wrong question when we say ‘why aren’t more women being published’? and i do really hate it that so many of the responses in these conversations always come from women who end up blaming themselves for the problem…

    Comment by cheryl — July 12, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  18. Steve, I agree about the Asian idea of Christianity being a Western religion, thus imported into Asia. I’ve had a few people say to me that because they are Asian they have to be Buddhist.

    One thing that is beginning to alarm me as I walk this path regarding the emerging church is that what is happening here in Asia is simply reproducing models of church that are Western and not Asian at all. I get annoyed by the numbers of Western beleivers who come here and tell Asians how they should be doing church. I know that this is how the house church in China become divided – Westerners came in, saying do church this way, you must believe this theology, then due to differences in theology that were imported, divisions occured. And this only began happening in the 1980s and continues today. God help us. God forgive our Western arrogance.

    I agree that there is a need for Asian Christians to peel off the layers of imposed colonist ideas. The sad thing is that some of them are deeply entrenched. Perhaps, yes, the emerging church can have an impact in this. I think what Asians need to see more of is faith in action. Speaking from a country where helping your nieghbour or doing anything to help the poor or disadvantaged cuts across the culture (simply written off as one’s bad karma, thus a reason not to get imvolved), it would be great to see Asian Christians pick up this idea and run with it. I heard that if there is a economic crash in China, then there would be chaos as there are no churches to provide soup kitchens or anything to the poor. Could the emerging church help Asian Christians to discover this part of the gospel?

    I don’t know how to start something like this though, as I don’t want to be considered a teacher bringing in a new teaching. I want the locals to grasp it themselves and see what God is saying to them about these things and what should the Asian churches response be.

    Your comment about being listeners and learners is so important in cross cultural work. I fear that it could become a lost art. I remember going on short term trips where in our training it was emphasised that the key is to be a listener and a learner. I know one foreigner here who doesn’t do anything with the ministry he is involved in until he seeks the blessing of local church leaders. This is a challenging idea as a lot of foreigners (and I will confess I thought this when I first came out), think that they are going to “save this nation, that nation, save this people group, that people group”. I like the idea of being a listener and a learner as you can learn what God is already doing in the culture instead of steamrolling in and potentially ruining what He was already doing.

    Thank you for asking some hard questions and for wanting to engage other cultures. One question for you though, how do you see the emerging church in the context of Maori and Polynesian culture in NZ? Being a Kiwi my experience is that many NZ churches don’t engage Maori culture at all and promote a Christianity that is white and middle class.

    May God continue to guide us in this great journey of His.

    Comment by wokboy — July 13, 2007 @ 4:55 am

  19. In ref to the books being Mainly US authors… the “Emerging” 5 actually includes 2 UK Authors (Drane and Murray) and of course 1 Kiwi! so only 2 in 5 US Authors… TBH I am surprised neither Hirsch or Frost get a mention in either, but it is all subjective and all the books listed are significant in their own way.

    Comment by MarkB — July 14, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  20. Oops sorry noticed there are 6 books in the “emerging” list… so 3:6 US

    Comment by Mark Berry — July 14, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  21. Mark, I am not sure this was about US vs non-US authors, but about Western vs non-Western. In other words UK, US, NZ are all from the West and thus invites the question; why is the emerging church not learning/listening to Asian, African, Latin American voices? Why is a Western mission project listening to only Western mission voices?

    peace, Steve

    Comment by steve — July 14, 2007 @ 7:16 pm

  22. Hey Steve & everyone,

    The issue of why, in the Western emergent church movement, we aren’t listening to Asian/African voices may depend on what we believe of the western emergent church movement in the first place.

    If, in some regard, ’emergent church’ is a reflexive, self-defense mechanism in the West by an increasingly post-modern population against the Western hangover of Christendom, then maybe the answer is only relevant within Western cultural paradigms.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying in doing healthy theology we shouldn’t include as many perspectives as we can because I personally believe we should.
    However, it is entirely possible that Asian Christianity or African Christianity has its own problems and its own hangovers to recover from (like, say, imperialistic/colonial-christianity aftershock). In that regard, maybe it isn’t fair to say theirs is about ’emergent church’ issues at all, any more than ours is about Colonialism.

    What do you all think?

    Comment by Iain — July 17, 2007 @ 2:10 am

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