2019 Book List, Part Two
2019 Book List, Part Two
Like I said in my previous post, this year’s book list has had to be divided into two parts because I dedicated half the year to reading up on the interpretation of Romans from contemporary scholars. So, if you’re interested in good books on Romans, see my previous post. But I also read several other books related to Christian faith and theology this year—some I highly recommend.

2019 Books on Christian Faith and Theology:

Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan P. Walton (2019)

Twelve Lies is a very compelling book that is straightforwardly written. It will no doubt challenge those who have come under the very sway of the White American Folk Religion (W.A.R.F.) that Walton exposes in the book. If a reader has uncritically accepted many of the twelve myths Walton dispels in this book, they will likely experience the pain of cognitive dissonance and recoil. However, Walton is also excellent at sharing his own story in painfully vulnerable detail, which—if readers give him the chance—has a very winsome effect. I was especially impressed by how directly Walton takes on Nationalism and violence. These are some of the idols that are last to be smashed. This is a book I’d highly recommend to just about anyone. Check out my more detailed review.

Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Christ Misses for Salvation in Christ by Matthew Bates (2019)

This year, Matthew Bates wrote a follow-up book to his 2017 book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, which corrects the distortion of the Gospel that has become prevalent in Western (especially Reformed) circles. Namely, the Gospel isn’t the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, but is instead the proclamation that Jesus is Messiah and Lord along with all that entails. Bates stands among several other prominent New Testament scholars who’ve made this case cogently such as N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight (to name two well-known ones). Gospel Allegiance was designed to be more accessible to lay-persons and to address some common objections posed since then. While I found Gospel Allegiance much better at directly calling out the perpetrators of Gospel distortion—namely the Neo-Reformed (i.e. Calvinists)—it also left me disappointed. It wasn’t that much clearer, and perhaps less clear in some ways. But I definitely liked it far more than I disliked it. But don’t tell that to Bates’ online fans. They’re convinced I bashed the book. Which is odd considering I still recommended it. Check out my more detailed review.

God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils by Thomas Jay Oord (2019)

I can think of few theologians who have done more to advance the conversation around theodicy in the last several years than Thomas Jay Oord. Disagree with him though I have, he has challenged my thinking like no one else, and he has made this seemingly esoteric subject accessible and personal for many lay people. God Can’t makes the question of God’s power and goodness urgent and necessary in a way that few other books I’ve read have. In many ways it is another presentation of Oord’s “essential kenosis” view that he has shared elsewhere, notably in The Uncontrolling Love of God. But in other ways, God Can’t is also a pastoral theology, a book about how to care for others who are suffering by not afflicting them further with harmful theology. Whether you end up agreeing with Oord’s position or not, this is a worthwhile book to read, at the very least so that you’re own thinking may be sharpened. Check out my more detailed review.

Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence by by Natalia Kohn Rivera, Noemi Vega Quiñones, Kristy Garza Robinson (2019)

For Christian leaders who desire to advance in cultural intelligence, Hermanas is one of my top recommendations. This book was written to and by Latina authors and ministry leaders. However, they allow those of us who are not Latina to pull up a chair and listen in. Additionally, this book also invites male Christians to consider the powerful witness of women throughout the Scriptures. Each chapter is not only a personal reflection by the author about their own journey of faith and experiences in ministry, but it is also a profile of a woman in the Bible from whom men have a lot to learn. I was particularly impressed by how the book emphasizes the themes of allegiance and justice. I highly recommend this book, especially for leaders seeking to grow in cultural dexterity. Check out my more detailed review.

What Is the Bible and How Do We Understand It? (The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith) by Dennis Edwards (2019)

One of the aspects of pastoral ministry I love most is teaching. For years I’ve taught classes for parishioners around fundamental subjects like the person of Jesus, the Bible, atonement, and baptism. One of the things I’ve wished I’d had for all those classes were brief and accessible resources on these subjects. In fact, I went so far as to self-publish a book on hermeneutics because I couldn’t find a resource that had in it all the elements I was looking for. That is why I’m really excited about this new series of books from Herald Press called “The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith”. The very first book in this series I’ve been able to read is even written by a personal friend and mentor, Dr. Dennis Edwards. His book on the Bible is precisely the kind of resource I would recommend every church use when teaching introductory classes to lay persons. Not only does Dennis do a fantastic job teaching the basics, he also teaches some less obvious approaches to biblical interpretation that are more indicative of the Anabaptist and Liberation traditions. That makes this resource even more important than any standard book on the Bible. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Check out my more detailed review.

Why Did Jesus Die and What Difference Does it Make? (The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith) by Michelle Hershberger (2019)

The second book in “The Jesus Way” series of books I’ve been able to read tackles the complex subject of atonement theology. This is another subject on which I’ve taught lay people for years. However, most of the affordable and accessible resources are woefully slanted toward atonement theories like Penal Substitution, which isn’t biblical and is even harmful. So, it’s been very difficult to find a resource on atonement that has a more biblical approach while remaining non-technical. This is that resource. Hershberger does a fantastic job of navigating the relevant themes in scripture while also organizing the book in a way that readers can follow. I highly recommend this book as well. And I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this amazing series.

Fire by Night: Finding God in the Pages of the Old Testament by Melissa Florer-Bixler (2019)

In my preaching and teaching ministry, I make a concerted effort to couch the Gospel of the Kingdom in the context of the broader biblical narrative. Sometimes preachers camp out in the New Testament exclusively and risk disconnecting the story of Jesus from the story of God’s redemptive purposes through Israel. So, for these reasons, I’m often on the lookout for good resources on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible—especially from women and authors of color. That’s why I picked up Florer-Bixler’s new book. One of the things I liked most about it was the author’s beautiful use of prose. My copy has lots of underlines. I also liked how she guides readers into deeper, imaginative exploration of familiar stories. What were these characters’ lives like? What were their motivations? At a few points, the author takes some unnecessary jabs at other authors who have done work on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Those moments detract from the book’s overall admirable quality.

Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey by Sarah Shin (2017)

Since I’ve been a pastor in multiethnic/multi-racial churches for over 20 years, I’m always on the lookout for books I can recommend to people who are just getting started understanding the complex dynamics of race, ethnicity, justice, and Christian community. There have been some books that I’ve worked through with small groups that have been absolutely life-changing for people. I had hoped this book would be one of them. Sadly, Beyond Colorblind obscures more than it reveals. The author has bought into a very unhelpful paradigm of 'race relations' that dismisses the fundamental racial inequities present in Western societies like the U.S.. The author also confuses ethnicity and race in several places, even while defining the terms correctly at one point. And the author goes out of her way to praise white people in her stories, as if they are the heroes of the racial righteousness journey. For these reasons and more, I cannot recommend this book. Check out my more detailed review.