Every year at this time I create a Facebook post about the 3-5 books I read during the year that I highly recommend. This year I decided I would write a short blog post about these books because it gives me the opportunity to write a brief review and hopefully sell people on why they should be reading these books. Overall I read several good books this year, some like Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens or Colin Woodward’s American Nations would have been among my list in many years. And though it was not among the best I read John Hull’s In the Beginning there was Darkness spoke to me personally, he is a blind man who writes on his experience with the Bible’s depictions of blindness and is a great window into how disabled people can see the Bible. If you really are that nerdy and curios you can find the list on my Goodreads page. All that said there are five books this year that I need to highlight as the best I encountered this year (this is the order in which I finished them).
Reading While Black Esau McCaulley, IVP, 2020- McCaulley wants us to understand that Black Orthodox Christianity got something to say. He’s right and he brilliantly shows how this tradition has been cherry-picked by conservatives and liberals without due consideration. McCaulley is correct in his assessment that white evangelicals and white liberals like to have this tradition on their side and will gladly accept black support on specific issues but rarely want to engage the entirety of the Black Orthodox perspective. The black orthodox tradition needs to be heard in its fullness; it is not simply a middle ground between white liberals and conservatives but a dialogue partner which reveals the flaws in both systems. This book made me recognize that my own theological circle is too small and tremendous blind-spots for adequately dealing with the world. The questions which are important to McCaulley are not the questions I have ever wrestled with in depth and I recognized they are important questions for our society. This is truly a must read for anyone who wants to understand theology, Biblical studies, or race in America.
The Violence of the Biblical God L. Daniel Hawk, Eerdman’s, 2019-When I think of the topic of Biblical violence I generally think of authors like Greg Boyd who want to excuse God from any responsibility for the violent passages in the Bible. There is a time and place for such ideas but Hawk has a far more nuanced approach. Rather than justify, condemn, or exclude God’s participation in the violence of the Old Testament, Hawk asks us to consider that God’s participation might be more nuanced. Hawk demonstrates how many of the violent passages of the Old Testament point not toward a violent God but a God dead set on loving humanity even if that means being party to the sinful ways humans operate. One paragraph can not begin to do justice to Hawk’s argument, it is very subtle but revolves around God actively participating in the world even if that means taking blame for or participating in violence. This book will be difficult for many who want to maintain a simplistic idea of God, whether that is “God’s ways are beyond ours so God’s violence is always justified even if we do not understand”, “God is loving and so these passages cannot represent God”, or “God is violent which proves God cannot be loving, and your faith is a fraud.”
The Language of God Francis Collins, Free Press 2006- I am ashamed that it took me so long to read this book. Collins is a highly respected geneticist and recently retired director of the NIH and a committed Christian. There is some irony that this book which shows there is no conflict between Christianity and science was released the same year as Richard Dawkins The God Delusion which tried to argue the opposite. Fifteen years out Collins has been proven to be more accurate; this is a landmark work and needs to be more widely appreciated by Christians. One of the saddest realities is that Christians still have a vast distrust of science and scientists. Christians need to overcome this distrust and start recognizing that science is merely the organized use of our brains to understand God’s creation and there is no better place to begin this journey than with Collins.
Saving Us Katherine Hayhoe, Atria/One Signal Publishers 2021- Katherine is a climate scientist and I know it sounds “leftist” to put a climate science book on a best of the year list but not this book. Katherine walks through the ways in which climate change is impacting our planet, yes; but the true greatness of this book is that it shows how people are allowing the political divide around climate change to blind them from truly saving what is important to them. Again and again she reminds us we all have different priorities but we all care about how a changing climate impacts our lives and we need to take appropriate steps to deal with this issue. Whether you care about saving natural landscapes or making money a changing climate impacts your value structure and now is the time to act. Katherine comes from a Christian perspective and writes elegantly about creation care from that perspective but her main point is that when we defuse the politics of the situation everyone’s values actually lead to protecting the earth.
Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? John Fea, Westminster John Knox Press 2016- I read three great history books this year (the other two are listed in the opening paragraph). Why did I choose this one over the other two, it was more timely for the world around me. 2021 has seen a rise in Christian Nationalism and the mythology of American Exceptionalism. Fea’s research into the these areas is timely and sheds light on Christianity’s relationship with America’s founding. He is not at all dismissive of Christianity’s impact on either the American Colonies or the early United States, but he dispels the unwarranted myths about Christianity’s importance. He traces both how Christianity influenced American development and how Americans abused Christian teachings to further their political ideals. This is a fascinating book and is a must read especially for those who want to use the phrase “America is a Christian Nation.”