Read This Book is a new, monthly book review/recommendation by members of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty. New reviews will be posted on the second Sunday of each month. Our first selection is by John McClure, Charles G. Finney Professor of Preaching and Worship.
I strongly recommend my new book, co-edited with Ronald Allen and O. Wesley Allen, to our alums who are wrestling with the question: How can my congregation be faithful and grow in wisdom in an increasingly pluralistic world of often competing interests. In particular, how can my congregation make its way through situations of potential or actual conflict between world views, attitudes, and religious understanding? Under the Oak Tree: The Church as a Community of Conversation in a Conflicted and Pluralistic World suggests that thinking of the church as a community of conversation can help. Conversation has a particular meaning in this book by referring to the act of pursuing the gospel of Jesus Christ by opening ourselves to others with the possibility that we may be changed and come to know Christ better in the process. The other could be a person, a group, a movement, a social situation, a written text—such as a book or a poem, an expression in the media or almost anything in life. This book places every aspect of church life from education, preaching and worship, to mission, social witness, interfaith dialogue, and evangelism into this conversational perspective, showing how a commitment to this kind of conversation can transform congregational leadership and mission.
For regular blog posts oriented toward working preachers, see John McClure’s blog: Otherwise Thinking at www.johnsmcclure.com
 People in the church—including ministers and scholars—sometimes use the word “conversation” in a more limited way that presumes the trustworthiness of Christian tradition (or some piece of tradition, such as a biblical text). The church might then engage in give-and-take to clarify the meaning of the tradition and how it applies to today, or seek to clarify the meaning of something outside the church from the perspective of how Christian tradition leads the church to interpret that phenomenon. A preacher, for instance, often prepares a sermon under the presumption that a biblical text has a message that is applicable to the life of the church and world today. By assuming the validity of Christian tradition, a priori, the church is not truly open to the possibilities presented by the other. While such give-and-take often helps the church enlarge its understanding of tradition or of issues or situations, it falls short of the kind of conversation sought in this book: openness to the other that can lead to fundamental reassessment