Post Page Advertisement [Top]

Here are the top ten books I read in 2021. I hope you'll find something good to read.
I started off last year's list with two books about Christianity and American history, and I'm doing it again, starting with…

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
By Kristin Kobes Du Mez (2020)

Like many people, I was blindsided by Donald Trump's election in 2016 and the overwhelming majority of white evangelical Christians who supported him. It felt like it came out of nowhere. It did not. In fact, Trump was only the latest abrasive, cowboy-style hero embraced by a white evangelical culture where toxic masculinity, purity culture, and a God 'n' guns mindset have compromised the values of the gospel.

Much as Jemar Tisby gave a historical overview of the American church's complicity in racism in The Color of Compromise, Kristin Kobes Du Mez (PhD, American History) lays bare the unbroken thread of patriarchy, macho masculinity, and nationalism in the history of the white American evangelical church—a group which has, time and again, been drawn to men strikingly similar to Trump. Du Mez skillfully connects the dots to show us the deeper roots of many of the problems we are seeing in the white American church today. (I was reading this book when the Jan. 6 insurrection happened, and it was eye-opening, to say the least.)

There is a reason this book is everywhere these days. You may not agree with every bit of it, but this is crucial reading for thoughtful Christians in the U.S. right now.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth
By Beth Allison Barr (2021)

Barr (PhD, Medieval History) argues that American evangelical "biblical womanhood" comes not primarily from the Scriptures, but from our fallen human culture (which is then justified with Bible verses, as was done with American slavery).

When viewed from a wider historical perspective, Barr writes, the "biblical womanhood" that many American Christians view as courageously counter-cultural actually "looks much more like the non-Christian systems of female oppression that I teach my students about when we discuss the ancient worlds of Mesopotamia and Greece."

"What if patriarchy isn't divinely ordained but is a result of human sin?" What if Jesus and the Scriptures, understood correctly, are constantly subverting the subjugation of women rather than upholding it? These are important questions which I am grateful to Professor Barr for helping me consider more deeply.

God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God's Unexpected Coming
By Drew Jackson (2021)

Pastor Drew Jackson offers us a collection of poems inspired by the first eight chapters of Luke's gospel—poems rooted both in the Scriptures and in his experience as a Black man in America. He consistently draws out Luke's theme of, in his words: "History. / Told by those / lovers of Adonai / from the underside. // This story. / From the mouths / of the disempowered / and marginalized."

Fusing the honest, raw emotions of the Psalms with his own style of spoken word poetry, Jackson uses moments from Luke 1-8 as launching points to speak on contemporary realities—from the mass incarceration of Black men ("The Waters of My Weeping," inspired by John the Baptist's imprisonment) to the formative wisdom of his mother ("Teaching Time," inspired by Jesus sitting in the synagogue).

Jackson's poems are clear and approachable, written to be understood by everyday folks—which cannot be said for a lot of modern poetry—yet there are deeper layers here for those willing to sit with his words. This book is a gift to the church, and my favorite of the 20+ poetry collections I read this year. Watch Drew Jackson read the excellent title poem.

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing
By Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (2020)

I have become passionate about the value at the heart of this book: that helping churches grow in goodness (Hebrew 'tov') is more important than helping them grow in size. We have too many examples of the massive, irreversible damage that results from Christians ignoring abuses of power in pursuit of numerical growth—just listen to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast or look at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

In A Church Called Tov, Laura Barringer and New Testament professor Scot McKnight (her father) dig into the workings of both toxic and 'tov' church cultures, showing how the cultures we create (intentionally or not) shape us as people. The first part of the book paints a portrait of toxic church cultures, including telltale early warning signs and heartbreaking stories of how leaders silence critics. The second part focuses on eight elements of "goodness" culture that we can work toward, with inspiring examples of churches and ministries that are doing it well.

Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up
By Tiffany Bluhm (2021)

I read this book right after A Church Called Tov and the two books made a great pair. Tiffany Bluhm shares a wide range of stories that highlight the individual and systemic ways that men silence, discredit, and marginalize women's voices, especially when women try to speak up about abuse. Bluhm, an East Indian immigrant to the U.S., brings a helpful awareness of how factors like racism and the legal vulnerability of undocumented immigrants compound the exploitation and silencing of women.

This book deepened my understanding of systemic sexism and challenged me to step up as an ally to women, working to address these pernicious problems, which are truly ours (men's) to fix.

Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence
By Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin (2019)

I knew Americans loved their guns, but this book slapped me across the face with just how uniquely weird, obsessive, and deadly our culture's love for guns is. The statistics are mind-blowing. This book's eighteen chapters examine several facets of this deeply embedded cultural-political attraction to guns and its conspicuous prevalence among Christians (which has long puzzled me because, as Shane Claiborne put it in a recent interview with PAX, "The cross and the gun give us two very different versions of power, one that says, 'I am willing to kill,' the other that says, 'I am willing to die.'")

This book, however, is written by two Christians who literally melt down people's guns and remake them into garden tools, inspired by the poetry of Isaiah 2:4: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks"—hence the title, Beating Guns. This is what Jesus' coming kingdom will look like, and this informative book invites us to begin living into that reality now.

This is the book that inspired me to write my poem "American Altar" for PAX's Nonviolence StoryArc.

Calling in Context: Social Location and Vocational Formation
By Susan L. Maros (2022)

In this book, Susan Maros (PhD, Intercultural Studies) first identifies the default "mental map" that white US-American Christians use to think about vocation / calling (hint: it's individualistic, role-based, and supernaturally revealed, among other things). Then, she helpfully introduces us to alternative mental maps that can help us discern and respond to God's leading in new ways, accompanied by first-hand accounts of people's diverse vocational journeys, which serve as helpful real-world models.

As the subtitle notes, Maros also helps readers think through how their social location—particularly their racial-ethnic-cultural identity, socioeconomic status, and gender—affect how they approach and live out their vocation. This is a thoughtful and practically helpful book for anyone wanting to think in a more well-rounded way about God's calling on their life.

The Genius of Women: From Overlooked to Changing the World
By Janice Kaplan (2020)

Ninety percent of Americans think of geniuses as mostly men. Why is this? Janice Kaplan shows us, through story after story, how women have consistently been denied the opportunity to fully develop their talents (did you know Mozart's sister was quite possibly more gifted than her brother Wolfgang?) and how women's genius-level achievements have often been written out of the narrative or credited to men (see Lise Meitner's co-discovery of nuclear fission).

This book hammered home the truth that "the real issue separating men and women isn’t talent or achievement or natural brilliance or hard work. It’s being in the position to set the rules." It highlights the many ways that our culture has trained us, men and women alike, to undervalue women and miss out on the gifts they have to bring.

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness
By Richard B. Hays (2016)

At only 109 pages, Professor Richard Hays' firecracker of a book introduces readers to his "figural Christology" approach to reading Scripture, letting the Old and New Testaments shed light on each other in beautiful and insightful ways.

Hays (PhD, New Testament Studies) introduces us to the ways that each of the four gospel authors interacts with the Old Testament—from Matthew's in-your-face quotations of "fulfilled" Old Testament prophecies to Luke's more subtle narrative allusions, where "the primary action of the Gospel is played out on center stage… while a screen at the back of the stage displays a kaleidoscopic series of flickering sepia-toned images from Israel's Scriptures" (a visual idea which BibleProject borrowed for their Luke videos, like this one).

Hays' short work gives us a glimpse into the breathtakingly rich poetic tapestry of Scripture, which has captured my imagination through those Hays' work has influenced, including BibleProject and poet Malcolm Guite. After this wonderful and accessible introduction (which I read for fun, not for seminary!), I am eagerly looking forward to reading more of Hays' work.

 Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture
By Dana Gioia (1992/2002)

In his landmark 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?,” Italian-Mexican-American poet Dana Gioia looks back to a time in the U.S. when poetry was not confined to classrooms, literary magazines, or poets writing for other poets—a time when poetry was written for, and read by, the general public. He urges us to move back in this direction, to make poetry matter again to everyday people.

Gioia's essays have shaped me as an artist. He has encouraged me write poetry that is accessible, not esoteric. And he has influenced me toward publishing most of my poems "in the wild" alongside other genres (e.g. news, essays, visual art) rather than only in poetry magazines—so that folks who don't normally read poetry can encounter my poems and perhaps be moved by them.

You can read the title essay (the reason this book made the list) in The Atlantic, where it surprisingly generated more reader mail than anything the magazine had published in decades.

For more recommendations, check out my previous Best Books lists for 2020, 2019, 2018, 2016-17, and 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Bottom Ad [Post Page]

| Designed by Colorlib