As part of my blogging rhythm each year, here is the 12th annual posting of my top reads for the year (2020, the year of the pandemic). The list is in no particular order.
Globalization, Spirituality & Justice: Navigating a Path to Peace by Daniel Groody. Though I stated that this list is not in any particular order, I would say this was my top read of 2020. It was absolutely stirring, and convicting, to be further introduced to the spiritual problem of poverty in our world. I shared some initial stats here from the book, but the reality goes so much deeper. About 5 billion people live off $10 per day ($3,650 per year), of which 1.2 billion of that group of people live off only $1.25 per day ($450 per year). Yet, annually, the world spends the likes of $45 billion on fragrances, $153 billion on toys and games, and then a whopping $1.74 trillion (with a T) per year on military expenses. That is $5.5 billion per year. A day’s military spending could fully scale-up malaria intervention for one year around the world. Less than a week’s spending could provide access to drinking water and improved sanitation to everyone who does not yet have it. One last stat about our use, and exploitation, of the earth’s resources: 20% of the population in developed nations consume 86% of the earth’s goods. Groody goes on to note: “If all the people consumed natural resources at the same rate as the average US and UK citizen we would require at least two extra planets like Earth…by 2050” (257). All of this is very concerning. And, so, Groody offers how we can, as a global religious community, live out a more just experience in taking care of both the impoverished and God’s good earth.
Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins. In light of much of what happened in 2020 regarding injustice toward African-Americans, I picked up a copy of Perkins’ classic and read it for the first time. Such was a very moving account of a man who pioneered the way forward for blacks in the South (particularly Mississippi) in the 1950s to 1970s. Of course, his work has continued into the present.
The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. The first few chapters (which is where I’m up to at this point) have floored me. What Brueggemann has done is compare the Mosaic community with the Solomonic community, in particular highlighting the injustices that began to form under Solomon’s regime. And the comparable realities with the American Christian system is easily seen. We have a problem on our hands—just as Israel had in the late 700s to early 500s BCE, just as the Jews of the first century had, and just as Western Europe encountered a century or two ago. But America believes it is invincible, including the church. But, if we continue in the vein we have been (and I project we will), then we will lose most all our religious footing, not just in this country, but before God as well.
The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation by A.J. Sherrill. I have very much appreciated the Enneagram as a personality typing system. And I have also seen it as a helpful tool for spiritual growth. I don’t think this is some Jesus-appointed way for spiritual growth. But I think there are insights to learn as we learn the depths of the Enneagram. A.J. Sherrill has offered insights into this perspective. I blogged about the book here.
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen. I am being drawn more and more to Nouwen. I am also being drawn further into the practice of spiritual direction. This book introduces one not so much in how to offer spiritual direction, as to a deeper life of spiritual formation, or being spiritually directed through specific practices.
The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith by Stuart Murray. This Fall semester I taught a systematic theology course at Tabor College, which has a Mennonite Brethren background. This tradition is connected to the Anabaptist tradition. For the course, the students were to read this book and then do some group work offering reflections on the book. I was intrigued to read it, primarily because I know that Anabaptists are pacifists, and I am pretty much a full-blown pacifist. I was actually not too pleased with the chapter on peace. It didn’t offer much biblical insights. But I did love the chapter entitled “After Christendom.” American Christianity, in my opinion, has become a Constantinian-infused religion.
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World by Stephen Prothero. This was the text for a World Religions course that I taught this Fall at Christian Brothers University. It was very insightful with the author’s intent being to show that not all religions lead up the same mountain. Prothero may have grown up a Christian, but he isn’t a professing one now. So, this does not come from the traditional Christian apologetic perspective, defending Christianity as the one truth. With that, it’s interesting to note a non-Christian advocating that all religions are not the same, do not lead to the same final destination.
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby. Again, in light of racial injustice against African-Americans, this was a book my small group took up. It offers fantastic historical insight into the American church’s perpetuation of slavery, discrimination, racism, and injustice for the past few centuries. Tisby is a Christian and is in no way wanting anyone to abandon the church, but rather take ownership of our past and also see change in the present. You can also watch this 12-episode FREE series on Amazon Prime. In it, author Jemar Tisby offers 20-minute sessions that follow each of the chapters from the book.
Re: Mission: Biblical Mission for a Post-Biblical Church by Andrew Perriman. Perriman’s work has always intrigued me. In particular, he champions the narrative-historical hermeneutic. Some might label him a preterist, but that’s not his framework. Think of the New Pauline Perspective, which I believe better embeds the New Testament biblical text within its ancient, Jewish context. The narrative-historical framework is the NPP on steroids. It is almost impossible to read the Bible without our systematized ways of the west. So, if you want to try Perriman (also his book on Romans), be ready for some challenging stuff to chew on. You can also check out his blog at postost.net.
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight. I read this book back in 2009 (and it was an early blog post here at PT). It became the initial book that opened me beyond a neo-reformed, Calvanistic theology. For that, I am grateful to McKnight. And I’ve followed his works ever since. Recently, the 2nd edition was released and it was the text of a book group over the summer. To sum it up, the book poignantly offers that the old adage, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” is rubbish. And it is. There is much more to the Scripture than this black and white statement. There is a lot of “gray”. Or, as McKnight calls them, blue parakeets that are difficult to cage.
Saving Face: Enfacement, Shame, Theology by Stephen Pattison. This was a book I read for a PhD seminar. It was a fantastic book on a theology of the face—the human face and God’s face. These words come from the Amazon blurb: Examining what face means in terms of inclusion and exclusion in contemporary human society and how it is related to shame, Pattison reveals what the experience of people who have difficulties with faces tell us about our society, our understandings of, and our reactions to face. Exploring this ubiquitous yet ignored area of both contemporary human experience and of the Christian theological tradition, Pattison explains how Christian theology understands face, both human and divine, and the insights might it offer to understanding face and enfacement. Does God in any sense have a physically visible face? What is the significance of having an enfaced or faceless God for Christian life and practice? What does the vision of God mean now? If we want to take face and defacing shame seriously, and to get them properly into perspective, we may need to change our theology, thought and practice – changing our ways of thinking about God and about theology.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling. I have read the HP series previously, but I am now working my way through the illustrated versions. Such lovely masterpieces of fantasy fiction.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling. I also finished the third HP book as well. I am now half-way through the 4th, The Goblet of Fire. The coming year of 2021 is supposed to be the release of the 5th, The Order of the Phoenix.
Camino Winds by John Grisham. This was a follow up book to his originally published Camino Island, which was part of my top reads in 2017. As I have mentioned a few times here at the blog, I am a huge Grisham fan and have read all of his books over the past 2+ decades.
A Time for Mercy by John Grisham. He released two new books in 2020. So I just literally finished this one a few days ago. I really enjoyed it, as it returned to the story of Jake Brigance, who was the lawyer of Carl Lee Hailey in his first ever novel, A Time to Kill. One interesting piece of info is how the book, especially the ending, may just give insight into changes in Grisham’s own viewpoints.
Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees by Daniel Taylor. This was the third installment in the John Mote mystery series. Most people will not know Taylor and his works, published through the same publisher I’ve worked with (Wipf & Stock, though through their fiction imprint Slant). The first book in the series won an award with Christianity Today. But this book was very interesting in highlighting the extreme religious-theological fundamentalism found in both the religious right and the liberal left.
There is my list for 2020. If interested, below are the links to my top reads from the previous eleven years.