Books (or so) That Have Helped Shape My Life
by Envoy Roy
I was raised in a Pentecostal/ Fundamentalist environment that
included a strong emphasis on Dispensational theology with a
focus on the imminent rapture of the Church.
This belief (along with the “fire” that would come with
the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in
tongues) was to fuel a desire to witness to the lost and wait
for the soon return of Christ.
In the 1960’s Chicago area where I grew up, I was
interested in baseball (the Cubs) and girls, so I was pretty
convinced on at least a few occasions that the rapture had
come and I had been left behind.
Most of my neighborhood friends were either Catholics
(definitely not rapture material) or mainline Protestants (did
not believe the Bible) so I was for sure hanging with the
wrong crowd if I wanted to be raptured.
In high school I was still interested in baseball and girls,
but for some reason was not as worried about the rapture.
After high school I enrolled at Oral Roberts University
in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Pentecostal/Evangelical school that,
while still quite conservative, was more liberal than the
church in which I had been raised.
I majored in psychology with a plan to pursue a career
in the behavioral sciences.
I went through a period of agnosticism/atheism as I
wrestled with why the Christian faith (or what little I knew
of it) had little to say about contemporary problems of the
1970’s like racism, poverty, the Viet Nam War, etc.
Towards the end of my undergraduate program it was
recommended I read
Ronald J. Sider’s
book, Rick Christians
in an Age of Hunger (Intervarsity Press 1977).
Dr. Sider walked through the biblical text to reveal
how much of scripture is devoted to the issues of wealth and
basically knew bible stories from Sunday School: Old Testament
heroes, the life of Christ (but mostly from the Gospel of
John), something about the rest of the New Testament
(particularly the Pentecost account in Acts 2) and possible
End Times’ scenarios.
Dr. Sider laid out how much of the prophetic tradition
concerns social issues and that the call of Christ is directed
towards material as well as spiritual poverty:
The mission of the Incarnate One was to free the oppressed and
heal the blind….The poor are the only group specifically
singled out as recipients of Jesus’ gospel.
Certainly the gospel he proclaimed was for all, but he
was particularly concerned that the poor realize that his good
news was for them.
Ron Sider’s book, as well as other readings in the area of
social concern, motivated me to consider pursuing a different
career path than the behavioral sciences.
While I graduated with a BA in psychology, my interest
was now in biblical and theological perspectives on social
justice, so I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in the
Fall of 1980.
Fuller was still in the evangelical camp at the time but was
more open to discussion from differing theological traditions.
I used most of my electives to take courses in Social
Ethics, Ethics of Bonhoeffer, Sociology of Religion,
Philosophy of Religion, etc.
I read much from Anabaptist writers, including
John Howard Yoder’s
The Politics of Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 1972).
Yoder attempted to show the teachings of Jesus are
rooted in nonviolence and that nonviolent resistance is a
legitimate expression of a Christian approach to social
believers are called to resist nonviolently those “powers”
that seek to usurp the authority of Christ and undermine the
advance of the Kingdom of God:
The believer’s cross is no longer any and every kind of
suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is
believer’s cross must be, like his Lord’s, the price of his
It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an
inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path
freely chosen after counting the cost.
I now thought of myself as a pacifist, began to volunteer at a
homeless shelter near the Seminary, and did an internship with
an interfaith organization that was interested in the
repressive violence going on at the time in Central America.
This internship motivated me to read more widely in the
then popular field of Liberation Theology.
Liberation Theology attempted to provide some biblical
warrant for the revolutionary movements taking place in
Central America (definitely not pacifistic).
From this perspective, the overall message of the bible
was liberation and Jesus provides the seed for all true
Liberation theology was heavily dependent upon Marxist
sociology to provide a “hermeneutics of suspicion” to the
biblical text (i.e. suspicious of any biblical interpretation
that was personal [and thus supportive of the power status
quo] rather than political/revolutionary).
Through this internship I was also able to travel to
Nicaragua to observe the Sandinista revolution up close (or so
I was told). We
were able to travel as far north as Jalapa near the Honduran
border, staying with peasant families where running water and
electricity had only recently been made available.
Interestingly, the church that was best attended (and
not sympathetic to Liberation Theology) in Jalapa was
After I graduated from Fuller in 1985 I got married, joined
the United Church of Christ (the most liberal Christian church
in the United States) and went on staff at the soup
kitchen/homeless shelter where I had been a volunteer.
The church became a sanctuary for Central American
refugees and housed the homeless shelter where I worked.
This church was very active in most politically
progressive causes of the time.
The church also struggled with the usual issues that
face churches: attendance, budget shortfalls and pastoral
In the late 1980’s I read
Resident Aliens by
(Abingdon Press 1989).
This book argued that Christians were not so much to be
involved in politics but to witness to the new politic of the
Kingdom of God inaugurated through the life, death and
resurrection of Jesus through the local church:
We argue that the political task of Christians is to be the
church rather than to transform the world.
One reason why it is not enough to say that our first
task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no
other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly
interpreting the world except by way of the church.
Big words like “peace” and “justice,”
slogans the church
adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know
what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace
and justice means, are words awaiting content.
The church really does not know what these words mean
apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth…
Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any
institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be
suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to
make itself credible. (pg. 38)
Hauerwas and Willimon advocated for a “confessing church”:
The confessing church…
calls people to conversion, but it
depicts that conversion as a long process of being baptismally
engrafted into a new people, an alternative
countercultural social structure called church.
It seeks to influence the world by being the church,
that it, by being something the world is not and can never be,
lacking the gift of faith and vision, which is ours in Christ.
The confessing church seeks the visible
church, a place,
clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to
their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the
poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the
amazing community-creating power of God. (pg. 46)
I continued to work with the homeless/marginalized in a
variety of secular settings through the early 1990’s, having
two sons and moving on from the United Church of Christ to the
somewhat less liberal United Methodist Church (where my wife
is an ordained elder).
Eventually, I was laid off from one of these secular
agencies and began again to look for work in the field of
After many months I was hired to start a program for homeless
veterans by…The Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army encouraged incorporating spiritual
programming into social services ministries, something that
had been discouraged at the secular programs of which I had
been a part of previously.
So, I tried to offer spiritual programming on a
voluntary basis at my government-funded residential program
Since I was the one with the seminary degree it seemed natural
that I would be the one to offer this programming.
I quickly found out, however, that the liberal
theological perspective that I had adopted was far removed
from the experiences of the men and women that would attend a
bible study I tried to facilitate.
This resulted in a two/three year re-exploration of my
I was invited to take the men to a
event in Los Angeles and became convicted of how I was living
as a husband and father.
In July 1997 I was asked to find out about something
from England called the
Alpha Course by
attending a training at a local church.
At that training I had a powerful Charismatic
thought I had put all of that behind me in becoming seminary
trained and focusing more on the social implications of
Six months later I started a ministry (that would later become
an Outpost and then a Corps of The Salvation Army) that would
attempt to integrate recovering men and women veterans from my
homeless program into a worshipping community.
The model for this would eventually come from the inner
city missions organization, World Impact, and a book written
entitled Out of Ashes
(World Impact Press 1996).
World Impact argued for a multiplication of churches
planted in the inner cities of the world that could be
cross-cultural, multi-racial and committed to developing
“indigenous leaders.” (pg. 101)
I became convinced that I was called to plant a
Salvation Army ministry for recovering people that would train
up indigenous leaders (i.e. recovering people) to influence
the next generation of recovering people for the growth of
God’s kingdom in the inner city area of greater Los Angeles.
This ministry would definitely incorporate addressing
the social situations of the people (poverty, oppression,
racism, etc.) but not neglect the call that individual
salvation comes by “grace alone, through faith alone, in
I initially struggled somewhat to find a examples for this
type of ministry within my own organization.
The Salvation Army’s Mission Statement includes the
words “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs
in His name…” but I had discovered that something had evolved
over time that could be called the “Corps side” and the
“social services side.”
The Corps’ focus could be spiritual ministry and the
“social services” would be more focused on the material issues
of poor persons seeking our help.
This divide could be even more pronounced in
government-funded residential programs run by The Salvation
Army, including my own.
I became convinced it was possible to integrate the
worshipping and serving aspects of The Salvation Army and
decided to be dedicated to making that happen in my program
I did much reading in Salvation Army history etc. and talking
to long-time Salvationists that had a similar interest to help
understand this tension between the “social” and the
“evangelistic” and how it might be bridged.
I was assisted in this by reading
Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology (The
Salvation Army 1987).
I asterisked the following statement from Commissioner
Needham as I read it in his book:
The Church gives witness to the gospel primarily in two ways.
These can be described as
Both are concerned with
facilitating the transformations which the reality of the
Kingdom makes possible.
Evangelism is concerned with transformation on the
personal level. Evangelism is an announcement of the Kingdom’s
presence and an invitation to accept citizen status.
Social action is also an announcement of the Kingdom’s
presence, but in this case by supporting and participating in
the social change for which that presence calls.
Without both ways to witness, the proclamation of the
gospel is hindered.
Evangelism without social action is a flight from the
world and refusal to accept the reality of the Kingdom’s
transforming presence in the midst of this world which God
action without evangelism is a flight from the personal depth
of the gospel and refusal to take seriously Jesus’
unmistakable command to his followers to become “fishers of
men.” (pg. 62)
But if that was not challenging enough, there was also this I
It should be clearly understood, however, that evangelism and
social action are more than the ways in which the Church
carries out its mission in the world.
They are also expressions of what is taking place
within the fellowship of believers-in-the-peace.
They are not merely charitable acts toward those who
are outside the fellowship.
Rather, they are the “overflow” of Christian caring
within the fellowship…The mission is the external expression
and sharing of what is happening internally. Otherwise it is
merely charitable works on behalf of outsiders.
Evangelism and social action are the refreshing and
renewing overflow of the life of the Church.
In carrying out its mission, the Church is actually
embodying not so much what it thinks it should
do, but what it is.
My time with The Salvation Army since reading this has been to
somehow bring these words into reality in my ministry context.
I have been aided in this by thinking through my Charismatic
experience and how it informs my ministry.
I read Glory on
Your House by
(Chosen Books 2002).
The Charismatic experience is foremost about increasing
passion for worship:
It began to well up in my soul.
Chabod—the Hebrew word
for “glory…” The weight, worth, value and splendor of God—that
is, of His Person, nature and being—are of inestimable worth.
The weight of God’s glory is the only worth that can bring
The weight of God’s glory is the only wealth that can bring
The weight of God’s glory is the only force that can tip the
scales and turn the tide of human circumstance from emptiness
I have also been aided in my ministry by
returning to, and reclaiming, Christian doctrine as the
necessary boundary for living out the Christian faith in this
increasingly pluralistic and relativistic culture.
Not everything the culture calls loving is actually so,
nor is every belief that supposedly puts one on the “right
side of history” necessarily consistent with scripture or
orthodox Christian belief.
As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I have been helped on doctrine
by Arminian Theology:
Myths and Realities by
Roger E. Olson
(Intervarsity Press 2006).
Olsen argues that Arminian theology is a consistent
Protestant expression of scriptural teaching on sin and
salvation and that nothing in Arminian theology mitigates
against upholding the pre-eminent Protestant understanding of
Christ’s work on the cross as
Salvation Army officers and ministry leaders are more than
pastors, but pastoring is an important aspect of our calling.
After years of evangelizing, discipling, doing pastoral
care, etc. in my ministry contexts, and sometimes concluding
that not much headway had been made, I was encouraged when I
memoir The Pastor
2011). This book
can be a Spirit-fueled shot in the arm to remain faithful to
one’s calling, do the regular tasks of praying, studying,
counseling, preaching, etc. and realize that this is holy and
noble with a longer history than our short lives.
And, on the subject of preaching, of all the books I
have read on preaching, none describes the preaching task
(Viking 2015). I
wish I had been able to read that 20 years ago when I was just
starting on this preaching journey.
Worship the Father extravagantly, through the Son, in the
power of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelize the lost.
Proclaim the good news to the poor and oppressed.
Establish outposts of the Kingdom that incarnate the
love of Christ.
Uphold the authority of scripture and sound doctrine.
Preach Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of