Recommended Books — Western Culture
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Disclaimer: The following books comprise a brief list of resources that we have found helpful for our church planters. In endorsing each of these books we are not saying that we agree on every point, but rather find the book as a whole helpful.

Soul Searching

by Christian Smith, Melinda Lundquist Denton

Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity, with appendixes explaining methodology and extensive endnotes. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., “mapping” religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book’s findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the “spiritual but not religious” affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens’ religious beliefs is their parents. Despite the personal tone adopted in the first chapter and the topic’s wide appeal, readers should be prepared to wade through lengthy presentations of research findings. Most helpful are summaries appearing in bullet form within several chapters, providing accessible and succinct overviews of the raw information and statistics. Regardless of whether this research will be “a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations” among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality.

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The Fourth Turning

by William Strauss, Neil Howe

After researching historical patterns, the authors (Generations: The History of America’s Future, Morrow, 1991) conclude that America is on the verge of crisis. They substantiate their hypothesis by identifying and tracing a repetitive, four-stage historical cycle that, throughout recorded time, started on a high note and ended in hardship. Narrator Michael Tilford’s polished, convincing voice and steady pacing lend an air of legitimacy to the authors’ assertions. A brief question-and-answer session between the narrator and the authors at program’s end provides an interactive quality that enhances the sometimes methodical drone of the historical analysis.

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The Cultural Creatives : How 50 Million People Are Changing the World

by Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ph.D. Paul H. Ray

Do you “give a lot of importance to helping other people and bringing out their unique gifts?” Do you “dislike all the emphasis in modern culture on success and ‘making it,’ on getting and spending, on wealth and luxury goods?” Do you “want to be involved in creating a new and better way of life for our country?” If you answered yes to all three of these questions–and at least seven more of the remaining 15 in Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson’s questionnaire–then you are probably a Cultural Creative.

Cultural Creative is a term coined by Ray and Anderson to describe people whose values embrace a curiosity and concern for the world, its ecosystem, and its peoples; an awareness of and activism for peace and social justice; and an openness to self-actualization through spirituality, psychotherapy, and holistic practices. Cultural Creatives do not just take the money and run; they don’t want to defund the National Endowment for the Arts; and they do want women to get a fairer shake–not only in the United States, but around the globe.

On the basis of Ray and Anderson’s research, about 50 million Americans are Cultural Creatives, a group that includes people of all races, ages, and classes. This subculture could have enormous social and political clout, the authors argue, if only it had any consciousness of itself as a cohesive unit, a society of fellow travelers. The husband and wife team wrote the book “to hold up a mirror” to the members of this vast but diffuse group, to show them they are not alone and that they can reshape society to make it more authentic, compassionate, and engaged. It is an idealistic call for a new agenda for a new millennium.

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Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

by Robert D. Putnam

Few people outside certain scholarly circles had heard the name Robert D. Putnam before 1995. But then this self-described “obscure academic” hit a nerve with a journal article called “Bowling Alone.” Suddenly he found himself invited to Camp David, his picture in People magazine, and his thesis at the center of a raging debate. In a nutshell, he argued that civil society was breaking down as Americans became more disconnected from their families, neighbors, communities, and the republic itself. The organizations that gave life to democracy were fraying. Bowling became his driving metaphor. Years ago, he wrote, thousands of people belonged to bowling leagues. Today, however, they’re more likely to bowl alone.

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