21-Book Salute (2020)
21-Book Salute (2020)
Every year I set a reading goal. This year, my goal was two books per month. I fell slightly short with 21. But given that this year was 2020, and therefore awful, I feel good about it—especially considering how good the books were! In order of when I read them:
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1. Divine Impassibility: Four Views of God's Emotions and Suffering

Edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill; Contributions by Daniel Costelo, James Dolezal, Thomas Jay Oord, and John Peckham

If you're at all familiar with my theological proclivities, you're probably aware that I've read and written quite a bit on the subject of divine impassibility. For most, this probably seems like a strange obsession. I get that. But it's also a critical component of one's view of God. On it hinges the kind of God one worships. And, personally, I couldn't worship an impassible god. That's why the subject matters to me. This book offers four perspectives on divine impassibilty, but that's a bit misleading. Only one of the four actually believes God is impassible. The other three either affirm God's passibility outright or in some modified way that still ends up affirming it. Also, the one view which affirms divine impassibility specifically denies that the doctrine is derived from Scripture. For those for whom biblical grounding for one's theology is important, impassibility is a non-starter. Check out my Two Part review
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2. Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice

Edited by Mae Elise Cannon and Andrea Smith

At a time when "Evangelical" has become synonymous with right-wing "Conservative" partisan politics, and a White faction in the Southern Baptist Convention has declared war any teaching that calls out systemic racism, a book like this is vitally important. Those who are called "Evangelicals" in 2020 are not the Neo-Evangelicals of Post-war America who rejected Fundamentalism and embraced science, social activism, and racial integration. (Ask the Veggie Tales guy!) Evangelicals like those who founded Gordon-Conwell's Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME)—my alma mater—have always embraced a holistic gospel that encompasses liberation and justice. Which is why chapter 10: "Leaning in to Liberating Love" about the birth of CUME was one of my favorite chapters. If you've been taught that Evangelicalism is what Al Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and Franklin Graham say it is, you need to read this book!
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3. Four Views on Hell: Second Edition (2016)

General Editor: Preston Sprinkle ; Series Editor: Stanley Gundry; Contributions by Denny Burk, John Stackhouse Jr., Robin Parry, and Jerry Walls

Back at the start of the year, I was teaching a series on "Deconstruction" at the church where I serve as a pastor and wanted to bone up on the hell debate. It'd been so long since I'd gone through my own deconstruction and reconstruction process around "afterlife" beliefs (2000—2003) that I'd forgotten a lot of what informed my thinking. Thankfully, Zondervan had updated their "four views" book on this subject since the version I read back in Bible college and it was very helpful.
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4. Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You've Been Taught About God's Wrath and Judgment

By Sharon L. Baker

For that same teaching series, I also read this wonderful book. Unlike the Four Views book, Baker is pastoral in her approach to this subject—and also approaches it from a distinctly Peace Church perspective, which I appreciated. Two of places where Baker shined brightest was on the subjects of "Sheol" and "Gehenna." I highly recommend this book for those interested in looking more deeply into what the Bible teaches about "hell."
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5. Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)Justice, Intersectionality, and Biblical Interpretation

By Mitzi J. Smith

It was a goal of mine to read more Womanism this year and this book felt like a good place to start. I'd recommend it to others who are dipping their toes in the Womanism pond. Each chapter is a bite-sized essay on an interesting subject. It's more academic than might be comfortable for the casual theology reader. But for those who are at least somewhat theologically trained, this book will excite. I expect to read much more from Mitzi Smith in the future.
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6. What is the Trinity and Why Does it Matter?

By Steve Dancause

I'm a big fan of Herald Press's "The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith" series of books. I've already reviewed Dr. Dennis Edwards' contribution: What is the Bible and How Do We Understand It?  I think these very brief books are excellent introductions for lay persons. So I was excited to read the two latest contributions. Neither disappointed. Dancause does an excellent job presenting such a complex and rich subject in a winsome and meaningful way.
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7. Why Do We Suffer and Where is God When We Do?

By Valerie G. Rempel

Tackling perhaps the most challenging question of them all—the question of suffering—is tremendously difficult when one has all the room required. But to do so in a format as brief as this series is a truly amazing feat. Rempel does a fantastic job. This is such an important subject—one that is so often mishandled and yet so crucial—I'd go so far as to say this should be required reading in churches.
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8. Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

By Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah

I've been waiting for this book to come out for years. Dr. Rah is a friend, mentor, and was one of my professors at CUME. Also, back when I was pastoring in LA, I met with Mark Charles and he told me about what he was working on: the Doctrine of Discovery. I was enthralled. It would be another three years before I'd have the book in my hands. But it was well worth the wait. This book not only walks readers through the long and horrific history of Settler Colonialism, it also introduces readers to a novel theory about White Fragility and trauma. Here's an excerpt from my review: "Unsettling Truths isn’t just a book, it’s a prophecy. It is a blazing spotlight focused directly on the darkness that plagues the United States, and in particular white, North American Christians. It calls us out of the darkness of historical ignorance and into the light of moral courage. It calls us out of the darkness of White Supremacy and into the light of antiracism and ethnic conciliation. It calls us out of the darkness of American Empire and into the light of the global body of Christ. ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ " Check out my review
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9. Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian "Third Way" Changed the World

By Gerald L. Sittser

What attracted me to this book was the phrase "Third Way" in the title. I'm very pleased that Sittser didn't use this phrase to Bothsides partisan politics or to commit the "Middle Ground" logical fallacy. Instead, he details the historical roots of the term and its import for today. Here's an excerpt from my review: "Resilient Faith fits well into a sub-genre of books that have proliferated in the U.S. within the last several decades, which are designed to help the church adapt to 'Post-Christian' or 'Post-Christendom' society. While Sittser certainly isn’t the first non-Anabaptist Christian author to also recognize the unholy marriage of church and state as a significant 'shift' in not only the history of the West, but also in the church’s theology and practice, he nevertheless connects those dots in a way that didn’t feel like a 'How To' book. I appreciated this a lot since I’ve grown weary of the hundreds of 'Missional' books that all seem to sound the same. Yet Sittser isn’t entire non-prescriptive. He does see the early church’s example as a model for how the modern church can continue to faithfully witness to the Kingdom of God." Check out my review
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10. The God Who Trusts: A Relational Theology of Divine Faith, Hope, and Love

By Wm. Curtis Holtzen

I met Curtis Holtzen in 2013 at an Open Theism conference I was co-directing in Saint Paul. Later we reconnected in Southern California while I was pastoring out there. He's a gifted professor with keen cultural insights. That's why I was so excited to read this book. Here's an excerpt from my review: "In The God Who Trusts, Curtis Holtzen demonstrates a vast knowledge of his subject. He traverses the thought of Aquinas and Tillich, process theologians and Reformed. He uses vivid analogies that stick with readers and at times his words catch the homiletical tenor of a preacher. It’s a good read! And with the publishing of The God Who Trusts, Holtzen joins the hallowed ranks of brave and brilliant theologians who have written monographs in the Open and Relational theological movement. His comrades are figures like Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Bill Hasker, Richard Rice, David Basinger, Thomas Jay Oord, and Greg Boyd. But The God Who Trusts strikes a very different tone and emphasis from these other works—filling what I now can see was a significant void." Check out my review
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11. A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity's Global Identity

By Vince Bantu

Vince Bantu and I go way back to our seminary days in Boston at CUME and we've kept in touch over the years since. Vince has become one of the country's leading scholars of early African Christianities and he's incredibly good at communicating his research to audiences. While this book is no 'beach read,' it was thrilling for this theology nerd, since I'm often perplexed and frustrated by what Soong-Chan Rah calls the "Western White Captivity of the Church." Here's an excerpt from my review: "Along with the detailed history of the Gospel’s early spread to Africa, the rest of the Middle East, and Asia, [A Multitude of All Peoples] also problematizes the notion of 'orthodoxy' that has come to dominate, especially in modern American Evangelical circles. What is taken for granted by the vast majority of Western Christians is that there is a clear and decisive history of orthodox theology going back to Nicea and Chalcedon. But like the whitewashed history of Christian missions, this too is a narrative warped by Euro-American ethnocentrism and White Supremacy. The reality is far more complex." Check out my review
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12. Might from the Margins: The Gospel's Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice

By Dennis Edwards

Dennis Edwards is a beloved mentor and inspiration. While his primary work is in the academy these days, he's an incredibly gifted pastor as well. The pastoral insights are what makes this book stand out from the rest. Here's an excerpt from my review: "Might From the Margins draws our attention to the way power factors into our understanding of the Christian faith. Power is something that White Evangelicals in particular have a difficult time talking about. It’s something that makes them/us uncomfortable. Which is precisely why White Evangelicals need to read this book." Check out my review
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13. Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance

By Reggie Williams

This year, leading up to the presidential election, I noticed many churches beginning teaching series on how to "dialogue" and heard a lot of Bothsidesing coming from White Evangelical pulpits. That's why, instead, I chose to teach on the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His fight against Fascism in 1930s Germany was more instructive for how Jesus-disciples should position ourselves relative to the U.S. government pre-election. Reggie Williams' excellent book on Bonhoeffer's transformative experience in Harlem was a primary text as I prepared sermons.  Check out this sermon called "From Volk to Spoke"
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14. Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Counterpoints)

General Editor: James Stamoolis ; Series Editor: Stanley Gundry; Contributions by Bradley Nassif, Michael Horton, Vladimir Berzonsky, George Hancock-Stefan, and Edward Rommen

From time to time, I'm impressed by the far less dualistic, more organic theological foundations in Eastern Orthodoxy. And yet, the tradition is not without its own foibles. After being alerted to a sale by an online bookstore on the Counterpoints series, I picked up a few books including this gem. I found it very helpful.
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15. The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity

Edited by Ron Sider; Contributions by Ron Sider, Mark Galli, Miroslav Volf, Stephen Haynes, and John Fea (among others)

In 2020, many media outlets continually portrayed "Evangelicals" as a Conservative/Republican monolith, which is of course far from true. In reality, there was a vocal and sustained resistance to the toxicity of Trumpism resounding in the corridors of many Evangelical institutions. For example, Mark Galli was famously ousted from his role as Editor of Christianity Today for his pointed criticism of Donald Trump and the immorality and corruption he represents. He and many others contributed to this important book.
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16. God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath

By N. T. Wright

It's nothing short of amazing how prolific is N. T. Wright. He somehow managed to write a book about the global pandemic while most of us were still reeling from it. This book is very brief—particularly by Wright's book-length standards—but power-packed.
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17. Jesus and the Disinherited

By Howard Thurman

At some point in 2020 I realized that I desperately needed to read Jesus and the Disinherited. This work lays a foundation for so many of the works I've been reading and yet remains highly relevant today. Even though it was written over half a century ago, some of the insights could not have been more prescient. I am confident this is a book I will need to read again and again for years to come.
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18. Jesus According to the New Testament

By James D. G. Dunn

Occasionally I want to sink my teeth into some New Testament studies that remind me of my early Bible college and seminary days. This year, we lost one of the greats. James (known affectionally by his friends as "Jimmy") Dunn was a giant of New Testament scholarship. And yet his writing style is without pretense and entirely approachable to intermediate to even beginning scholars. This book is no exception.
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19. Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Charles Marsh

In my studies of Bonhoeffer for the teaching/preaching series I led for our congregation, I wanted to read something that more directly reflected upon Bonhoeffer's early childhood and background. I learned a ton from this book that I never would have imagined about the way Bonhoeffer was raised. This book was filled with immense details and yet also a feast for the imagination. A must-read for those who want to understand who Bonhoeffer was.
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20. The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump

By Stephen Haynes

I primarily wanted to read this book because of how the Bonhoeffer biography written by Conservative Trump-supporter Eric Metaxes has so proliferated the market and monopolized the popular perception of Bonhoeffer among Conservative White Evangelicals. This book shows precisely why the portrait painted by Metaxes is self-serving and drastically skewed.
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21. Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World

By N. T. Wright

Yes, I read two books by Wright this year. (That's not a record! Some years I read several books by Wright). It just so happens that this book was sent to me from HarperCollins before it was officially released (which was thrilling!) and so I couldn't resist. Despite being world-famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and insight into the person and work of the apostle Paul/Saul of Tarsus, this book is actually about the Fourth Gospel (aka "John"). I'm still hoping to give this book the review it deserves, but it will likely have to wait until 2021.

My 2021 Book Stack (Some I've Already Begun to Read)

There were several really good books that I started but wasn't able to finish reading in 2020. They have already made it into my 2021 stack, and I'm excited to start digging in soon!
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