Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

In Fifty Years?

I had a conversation the other day with Skye Jethani, at Leadership Journal, and J.R. Briggs, church planting in the Hatfield, PA, and this question was asked by J.R.:

Which books in the spiritual or Christian life written these days do you think will be read in 50 years?
How would you answer that question? What makes a book last? What makes a book timeless, or close to timeless? We read Mere Christianity and Pilgrim’s Progress and others, but what makes them stick?
Later today I’ll tell you the one book I think will be read in 50 years.
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posted April 20, 2010 at 2:38 am

The short answer is probably none. Fifty years ago in the US, the Christian bestsellers were two books by Pat Boone, ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty, and Between You, Me, and the Gatepost. Catherine Marshall’s books sold quite well in the 1950s. But nobody’s reading much of Pat or Catherine any more. Who will read Osteen or Piper or Warren in the 2060s?
Another answer is “Books! What’s a book?” Since the 1980s, perhaps earlier, we have become a culture of images, not thoughts. (See Neil Postman.) This will be even more true fifty years from now. Sadly, our grandchildren will be immersed in a seamless web of images. And it is these images that will spur their faith…or not. Even the Bible is a bookish thing. How will our descendants access it?
In the beginning was the Word. I am sure he will be there for our descendants. But I don’t have a clue how he will reveal himself to them.

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posted April 20, 2010 at 4:06 am

I think some of N.T. Wright’s work has the potential – of course there is a difference between what is being read by theology students and what is being read by the general population!
But dear God I hope Osteen isn’t being read in 1 year let alone 50!

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Ken Schenck

posted April 20, 2010 at 5:51 am

Jesus Creed? :-)
… had to be said.

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posted April 20, 2010 at 7:30 am

“Exclusion and Embrace” by Miroslav Volf

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Mark Farmer

posted April 20, 2010 at 7:30 am

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. As I read it, I find a probing, nuanced and true look into the human soul as it is pursued by grace that it cannot easily accept. And a true glimpse of the Father who is that grace. If I were to still be here in fifty years, I would read it again.

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Mick Porter

posted April 20, 2010 at 7:46 am

Looking forward to Scot’s answer on this, as I can’t think of any really popular book that is likely to last.
There are lots of commentaries and so-on from the 70’s and 80’s that are still really useful – but it would only take another discovery in the league of the DSS to change that.

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posted April 20, 2010 at 8:10 am

Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Some reading it- in 2060- may wonder what the big deal was about…i.e., that people of the Christian faith did not have a clue about the relationships between knowing God and experiencing transformation by the Gospel via the disciplines… :)

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Craig Higgins

posted April 20, 2010 at 8:26 am

I think the works of Eugene Peterson will still be read–and read profitably–in fifty years. If I were teaching an introductory course in systematic theology, I think I’d assign Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places as the first text. It would put first things first!
A few others: Leslie Newbigin’s work will be influential, I predict, for a long time. (And his earliest works, books like The Household of God and The Reunion of the Church, are only now being widely discovered.) On the more academic side, I think T.F. Torrance’s legacy is just now coming to full impact and is likely to grow, and that Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology will more and more be seen as the masterpiece (and even where I disagree, it’s a masterpiece) that it is.
My two cents worth!

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Clay Knick

posted April 20, 2010 at 8:28 am

“Celebration of Discipline.”

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Diane Reynolds

posted April 20, 2010 at 8:39 am

I actually think often about this question, possibly because so many books that come out seem designed from the start to have a shelf life of less than a year. I don’t think we’ll be reading Donald Miller in 50 years, just because his stuff will seem quaint and probably incomprehensible–but it’s possible Blue Like Jazz could survive in the way of A Catcher in the Rye. We won’t be reading any of the nuts and bolts books about how to build a missional church by getting a nose piercing and going to the local bar. We won’t be reading–except maybe a few scholars–the latest and greatest book on Christology.
My vote: Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. It’s timeless, it explodes off the page even after 70 years with the immediacy of having been written yesterday, it’s uncompromising and it’s unflinching in its radical call to obedience to God.
If I had to pick a runner up, I would choose, perhaps more wishfully than realistically, an edited (shortened) version of the Diaries of Dorothy Day. They too speak across time of the struggles of a woman to live a life –everyday and in every way–in obedience to God, because she’s seen the light that nothing else matters.

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Diane Reynolds

posted April 20, 2010 at 8:44 am

I see I was taking the long view on “recent” as meaning the last century–as in, OK, not Augustine or Martin Luther. Ah, church time. If we mean the last 10 or 20 years, there’s no book that pops to mind as earth shattering.

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Clint W

posted April 20, 2010 at 9:03 am

Good question, Scot. Off the top of my head, I’d guess Stott, Willard, Peterson. Nouwen seems like a sure thing, if we count his work as being written “these days.”

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posted April 20, 2010 at 9:12 am

I second the others who have mentioned Miroslav Volf (I personally enjoyed ‘Free of Charge’ as much as ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ but understand the latter is much more influential), Dallas Willard and Leslie Newbigen.

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Stephen Barkley

posted April 20, 2010 at 9:25 am

I second Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline”, Peterson, and Kelly.
For Peterson, it has to be “Christ Plays…”

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posted April 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

“Crazy Love” by Francis Chan will still be read 50 years from now and I would also pick “Disciplines of Grace” by Jerry Bridges.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 21, 2010 at 9:24 am

I was tied up yesterday with teaching and then traveling out to LA for Catalyst West, and during that time the Captcha was messed up … but I want to weigh in:
One book I’m confident will be read in 50 years is John Piper’s Desiring God.
This question for me is about spiritual classics and not about theology books, like Volf’s.

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nick gill

posted April 21, 2010 at 9:32 am

Simply Christian.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

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posted April 21, 2010 at 9:36 am

I hope N.T. Wright’s “Simply Christian” and Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” I second the votes for Dallas Willard!

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posted April 21, 2010 at 10:30 am

‘Surprised by Hope’ by N.T. Wright
‘The McDonaldization of the Church’ by John Drane

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posted April 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

The “trilogy?” by N.T. Wright ? Simply Christian, Surprised By Hope, After You Believe?

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Phil Wyman

posted April 21, 2010 at 11:04 am

In 50 years there will still be a fairly long list of books being read. Capitalism will make sure that is the case. In a couple hundred years the true test of classic will be challenged. I would hope that there will be some books to rise to the top, which have limited exposure now, along with the popular names today.
Yes on Willard and NT Wright I would think as well.
a little Gene Edwards perhaps: A Tale of Three Kings? The Divine Romance?

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Matt K

posted April 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

Even 30 years out from his older stuff, Nouwen seems like he was well ahead of his time. I suspect it’ll endure.
Wright’s popular stuff like “Surprised by Hope” has (from where I stand) had a growing and enduring popularity among pastors and lay-people alike.

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posted April 21, 2010 at 11:22 am

I’m gonna agree on Wright.
He’s been dead for 40 years, but Thomas Merton seems to be really gaining steam these days, but that may just be my community.
I still find guys like Lewis and Tozer to be relevant too..I wonder if they’ll still be known/read in another 50 years.

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posted April 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

I don’t think we can predict the classics. It’s not how helpful or good we close to the date of publication think a book is, but its power to communicate, inspire, etc across generations that make it a classic. So the marketers’ cry of an “instant classic” seems especially oxymoronic to me. But if I am going to pull for one, it would be “Finding Your Way: A Guide to Seminary Life and Beyond.” :)

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pam w

posted April 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I think we will be very surprised most of our ‘classics’ would not have been predicted as such in their day.
Why do you consider ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ is too theological for the question, and not ‘Surprised by Hope’? Just curious as i can’t see the distinction. Is it that Miroslav’s language isn’t as accessible?

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Jonathan Pedrone

posted April 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm

In the theology category: Wright’s Christian Origins Trilogy [The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God].

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posted April 21, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I suspect that Peterson’s, Christ plays in ten thousand places, will be appreciated for many decades to come, along with, A long obedience.

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Amory Ewerdt

posted April 21, 2010 at 11:54 pm

i don’t think it will be any of the books that deal with contemporary controversies in the church. it will likely be books that attempt to deal with timeless truths not hot button issues.

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steph seefeldt

posted April 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

I think Stott will endure…. and for sure Wright, especially ‘Surprised by Hope’, ‘Simply Christian’, and my favorite, ‘For All God’s Worth’. Good stuff, that. :)

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