How the Nations Rage (subtitled "Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age") is an excellent and timely book by Jonathan Leeman. Leeman is the editorial director at 9Marks, and has spent many years serving in churches in the Washington D.C. area. His experiences have given him a very keen understanding of how the comingling of faith and partisan politics can deeply damage the integrity and witness of the church.
The title of the book comes from Psalm 2:
Leeman writes compassionately but firmly about the issues facing the church today, but just as important, he writes about the timeless issues that the church will always face - the desire for power and control within a society, the confusion of that which is Biblical with that which is partisan politics.
Leeman shows that in many cases, policies that we think are dictated by Biblical morality may actually be what he calls "jagged line" policy issues - they require a stringing together of many Biblical concepts to form an argument, and another believer can, in good faith, string together another set of verses and concepts to result in a different policy argument. In these cases, we must be careful to give each believer freedom of conscience. Those who believe differently on policy issues must hold those views lightly enough that they can worship side by side with their brethren without animosity.
I grew up in a strange little bubble of evangelicalism that suggested that it was impossible to be a Christian and politically liberal. Leeman's even-handed treatment of both the left and the right was refreshing to me; he takes both sides seriously, and expects both sides to be able to sit down together in Christian love and celebrate their unity on that which matters most.
I highly recommend this book - especially to pastors and church leaders - but also to the laity of the church. Read it prayerfully and with an open mind.
This book was recommended to me by the CEF director for the state of Maine. Our morning staff devotions at camp were a guided exploration of this book.
Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders is precisely the leadership book which is needed in many churches. Many current leadership books that have been recommended to me focus on things like church growth, organization, and other external qualities of a church. This book focuses instead on many of the inner qualities that make a true leader in the eyes of God.
Sanders starts off his book with a comparison of an Old Testament verse and a New Testament verse that seem to be in contradiction:
The Old Testament verse is Jeremiah 45:5, which begins, "And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not."
Sanders points out that our western, American view of leadership is vastly different from the first century view; we see a pastoral calling as a matter of power and prestige, while first century Christians saw it as a dangerous position of service. And with that, Sanders sweeps away the seeming paradox, and highlights one of the biggest spiritual issues that western leaders may face: the siren call of power and prestige.
Read this book whether you're a pastor or simple (as the subtitle says), "every believer." The principles in this book are for you.
I find it interesting that we as Christians are so divided over what is "most important" missionally in our churches. I've heard pastors argue that evangelism is the most important thing, and I've heard pastors argue that compassion/justice based ministry is most important. Into this mix comes John Perkins who shows us clearly that both of these are simply the devoted response to God's command to "love your neighbor as yourself." (As Perkins has famously said, "Love is the final fight.")
Perkins writes compassionately and compellingly about his "Three R's" - relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.
Relocation - rather than abandoning devastated communities, we send people into them to become part of them. This is the example set for us by our Savior, who abandoned the glories of heaven to come live among us. Emmanuel, God with Us is the ultimate relocation.
Reconciliation - reconciliation between God and man through the gospel, reconciliation between man and his neighbor by addressing the divisions of class,, race and economics, and seeking just treatment for all.
Redistribution - don't think for a moment that Perkins is speaking of government or welfare; he's talking about bringing people together with all their varied gifts and abilities to break the cycle of poverty. In his own words, "bringing our lives, our skills, our educations, and our resources and putting them to work to empower people in a community of need. [This] is redistribution and it helps people to break out of the cycle of poverty."
It's interesting to me that, as I was reading Perkins' book, I was also reading through the book of Leviticus, and came across this verse:
This is essentially the concept Perkins talks about; rather than outright "charity" as we think of it, the much more costly, messy, and time-consuming process of helping people bring themselves out of their cycle of poverty.
This is a book that I highly recommend for any pastor or layperson who is trying to figure out some of the mechanics of seeking justice and promoting compassion within their communities.