1. Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give by Michael Rhodes, Brian Fikkert, and Robby Holt (2018). A sort of natural sequel to When Helping Hurts, this book explores multiple dimensions of how to use our resources on this earth for God’s kingdom, focusing equally on theology and practical application. From replacing a “soup kitchen” mindset with a community-building “potluck” mindset, to exploring the principle of gleaning in creating opportunities for work, to the importance of both partaking in Sabbath rest and making sure others have opportunities to partake in it, it’s an easy and enthusiastic read that both uncovers interesting Scriptural insights and shares inspiring examples of Christians applying these ideas all over the world.
2. A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (2012). It wasn’t my first choice for reading something by Evans after her untimely death earlier last year, but it was the first one I found, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. The gimmicky premise is really just an excuse to explore the tensions, contradictions, pains, hopes, and glories of the relationship between the Bible and modern evangelical culture’s paradigms about women. With wit, humility, and a dash of good storytelling, Evans is insightful and thought-provoking (the Jewish understanding of Proverbs 31 alone was worth the time I spent here).
3. Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roger (2019). With understandable anguish and yet also remarkable love, Megan shares her story of growing up in the most-hated church in America and finally leaving it. The page-turner humanizes her family members while also not flinching from the harm they’ve caused, and it’s full of surprising twists and turns, from the complicated ways no one is as simple as their stereotype, to the friendship – and not the reciprocrated hatred – that ultimately helped pull her away, to the unexpected similarities she found with those who used to be her enemies. Extremely interesting and thought-provoking on multiple theological and cultural levels, it’s an important and relevant read in our days of increasing polarization and political extremism.
4. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (2011). Pushing back on hubristic modern criticisms of the Bible as primitive in form and substance, Robert Alter describes the beautiful and innovative artistry found in the Biblical narratives, detailing the ironies and plot twists and reversals found in the deliberate carrying of certain phrases between apparently unrelated stories, or the thematic developments brought forth via subtle but crucial variations in repeated motifs. While Alter’s highly respectful yet still human-focused view of the Bible would be considered academically liberal by most evangelicals, his textual insights are just as valuable to the fully orthodox. Warning: it’s a pretty dry read.
5. Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes by Justo L. Gonzalez (1996). A wonderful example of how listening to different perspectives can provide a fuller and more beautiful understanding than we can achieve by ourselves, Justo Gonzalez describes how various aspects of Hispanic experience – and in particular Hispanic experience in and with the United States – illuminates aspects of the Bible I had never really noticed before, like the power struggle between the center and the margins of the early church, or the “code-switching” dual-culture existence of Saul/Paul and how his background specifically influenced and enhanced his ministry. A short and recommended read for the multicultural body of Christ striving to be united as one.
6. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (2018). With clear prose and stunning charts, Pinker describes the most incredible and under-appreciated paradigm-shifting reality of the modern world – the absolute poverty rate of humanity plummeted from 90% to 10% in little over a century, and despite the doom and gloom and bad news, human existence today is the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous it’s ever been. While I heartily disagree with Pinker’s atheistic prognoses (and would give more credit to religious influences of Judeo-Christian civilization), we can find a lot of common ground in the “love your neighbor” aspects of humanism as well as the importance and usefulness of reason and critical thinking to keep us all from sliding back into the Dark Ages.
7. G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles by Celeste Fremon (2008). “If you can’t imagine a future, then you’re not going to care a lot about the present.” A fascinating journalistic story of an endearing priest who becomes an unlikely father figure and mentor to a group of mostly Hispanic gang members in Los Angeles. The love and shame, the tragedies and triumphs… an intense mixture of heartbreak and hope.
8. Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home by Hugh Ross (2016). Leading old-earth creationist Hugh Ross uses the latest advances in scientific knowledge to detail the “fine-tuning” of parameters that make the Earth a habitable place, with his argument that the added dimension of deep time makes the case for divine purpose more likely, not less, due to the remarkable interlocking events that had to continually occur in just the right order at just the right points over billions of years to make our world capable of supporting conscious beings. While he may oversell some of the most extraneous and more speculative aspects of tuning, the overall journey through cosmology and geology is probably a much more wondrous and intentional telling of the story then you’re used to hearing.
9. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017). My only fiction for the year – an engaging story of a Korean family’s struggles living in twentieth-century Japan set against a true historical backdrop of war and discrimination. A few strong characters help anchor a story that could have easily lost me in its generational breadth. Despite the massive cultural and situational differences, I was struck by the incredible similarities of the “second-class” Korean experience in Japan to the African-American experience in the United States, revealing universal realities of human nature. Warning: to each their own, but I almost put it down once or twice due to the amount of sexual content.
10. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (2018). Describing recent conflicts on college campuses and trends in parenting and the emergence of Gen-Z, Haidt and Lukianoff argue that good intentions and overreactions have influenced an indulgence of logical fallacies that are leaving people ill-equipped to handle the challenges of real life and increasingly susceptible to the dangers of polarization. While some of the connections they draw may not be entirely supported, and while some of their arguments are sure to enrage adherents of various political persuasions (in ironic proof of the various trends they describe), I found their charitable and sympathetic treatment of such highly-charged topics an important contribution to some of the most vexing cultural issues we face today.