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20 Books Written in the Last 20 Years that Christians Should Read (Part 1)

June 26, 2014

Summer is officially here and one of my favorite traditions of the season is the summer reading list. This time of year the blogosphere is rife with recommended books, but before I throw my own list into the mix, two disclaimers are in order:

First, it almost goes without saying that these are not the only 20 books Christians should read. Nor are they the 20 best books published in the last 20 years. These just happen to be 20 really solid books (among many) that I think every Christian should read, eventually.

Second, this list is obviously limited to books I have read. Evangelicals are disproportionately represented, as are Westerners. That’s not to say that Christians should only read books by Western Evangelicals, quite the opposite! But these 20 books left a special impression on me. So I suppose this list could just as easily be titled, “20 Books Written in the Last 20 Years that Shaped Dan.”

Keep that in mind and we’ll be on the same page.

 

Gushee1. David P. Gushee, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation (1994)

The extermination of Jews during WWII is one of the most horrific events in recent history, made even darker by the fact that many European Christians passively condoned (if not outright supported) the Nazi regime. This is a terrible scar on the church’s history that many Christians have yet to critically reflect on.

Gushee’s book helps Christians work through our involvement in the Holocaust and learn the important lessons that can prevent similar tragedies in the future. Examining primary sources from Christian communities in Europe that bucked the trend — opposing Hitler, standing with the Jews, and protecting their Jewish friends and neighbors — Gushee asks the question: What made these “righteous Gentiles” different from their peers?

The answers are eye opening, shedding light on what it means to follow Jesus and live ethically in our world today.

 

murphy2. Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (1996)

In her book, Nancey Murphy takes on an ideological divide that has marked the church for over a century. Exposing the shared indebtedness of Christian liberalism and fundamentalism to modern philosophy, Murphy charts an alternative path grounded in postmodern thought. The result is an approach to theology that is holistic in its understanding of meaning, language, and metaphysics.

While her book is more “academic” than many on this list, concise summaries at the end of each chapter make it a surprisingly easy (and enlightening) read. Those interested in getting beyond the liberal-conservative paradigm in theology should definitely check it out.

 

tutu3. Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (1999)

A contemporary classic, this book offers Bishop Tutu’s reflections on his experience working for peace as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa. Readers are exposed to the moving, inspiring, and oftentimes frustrating work that goes into reconciliation, coming away with a richer understanding of forgiveness and its transformative potential in today’s world.

Embodying the love for enemies that Christ taught his disciples and revealing the limitless possibilities of the gospel when applied to human conflict, Tutu’s testimony is a must-read.

 

bouma4. Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (2001)

Christians have been alarmingly silent on the issue of creation care. Whether due to a simple lack of awareness, opposing political views, or an escapist spirituality that disregards the physical world, many Christian disciples are indifferent to the greatest calamity of our generation.

Armed with environmental data and solid biblical exegesis, Bouma-Prediger writes as an Evangelical calling his fellow Christians to join in the effort to save our planet. He argues persuasively that limiting our impact on this earth and being good stewards of creation is biblically-sound, Christlike, and honoring to God — not to mention an act of love toward our co-creatures and future generations.

 

jenkins5. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (2002)

This book was a milestone in my own intellectual journey, turning me on to the changing complexion of the church and its impact on Christian thought and practice around the world.

Jenkins examines the rapid expansion of Christianity among native peoples in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (delivering tons of fascinating statistics), coupled with its decline in Europe and the USA. He then teases out the implications of Christianity’s global shift for our understanding of what constitutes “normative” Christian identity as the church enters its third millennium.

No longer a “white man’s religion,” Jenkins argues for Christianity’s status as the first truly global faith and helps us understand why this achievement is so important.

 

winner6. Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (2005)

If you grew up in church, you probably remember learning about “purity” in youth group. The classic example involves having the kids scarf down a bunch of oreos and doritos, then passing a glass of water around the room that everyone spits into. That glass is then analogized as what happens to a young girl’s body if she commits the mortal sin of having sex before marriage.

Winner’s book goes a different direction, resurrecting the ancient virtue of chastity as a discipline that all Christians are called to practice. Applicable to married and single Christians alike, this is one of the best books I’ve found on Christian sexual ethics. And the fact that it’s written by a woman means that we get to avoid chauvinistic object lessons comparing women’s bodies to tainted glasses water — bonus!

 

boyd7. Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (2005)

Greg Boyd is one of my favorite preachers and his writing is just as honest and thought-provoking as his weekly sermons. In this book Boyd exposes the profoundly un-Christian nature of U.S. imperialism, contrasting the way of Jesus with the American way and exposing the danger of Christian flirtations with political power.

Hard-hitting and convicting, Boyd’s writing comes as a wakeup call to anyone who has ever struggled with an idolatrous relationship to political ideologies (as I have) and puts forward a constructive, nonviolent platform for living as a citizen of God’s kingdom.

 

harris8. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

Christians need to listen to our critics. And while Sam Harris’ writing is often polemical, delivering rants against religion that are painfully lacking in nuance, his critique of American Christianity gets an awful lot right. Of the “New Atheist” authors that have sprung up in recent years (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) Harris is by far the best.

Getting personal in this book, Harris unpacks the ways mainstream American Christianity has turned him off from religion and reinforced his own atheism. Admittedly, about 20% of this book is garbage — over-generalizations, unsubstantiated claims, foundationalist logic, etc. — but the other 80% delivers a rock solid critique that Christians need to take seriously if we want to present a compelling picture of Christ to a world that needs the gospel.

 

wright9. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008)

N. T. Wright has been called the C. S. Lewis of our time, and this great little book goes a long way toward supporting that claim. In its pages, Wright unpacks the vast (and largely untapped) beauty of the Christian hope for the future and its relevance for how we live in the present. If you think Christianity is primarily about gaining entrance to heaven and avoiding hell — think again.

I really love the historical perspective provided by this book. In our calamity-obsessed culture with its penchant for divining the future, it’s easy to get distracted by alarmist, pseudo-theological depictions of the end times in written and visual media (Tim LaHaye and Kirk Cameron, I’m looking at you). Wright’s book reminds us that while speculative eschatology has always been a temptation, the church has historically looked at the return of Christ as a hope-filled and already-initiated event that comes as good news to all people.

 

common prayer10. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, and Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (2010)

For those who have never used a prayer book, this is a perfect place to start. Not to be confused with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, this text collects one year’s worth of prayers, hymns, and Scripture readings intended for use in any Christian denomination. With a different morning prayer for each day of the year, evening prayers matched to the days of the week, and a single midday prayer that remains constant throughout the year, there is plenty of fodder here to ignite your prayer life.

I especially like that the authors connect the liturgical year with important events in recent church and secular history. As someone who wasn’t raised in a liturgical tradition this book has greatly expanded my understanding of prayer, routinely pushing me out of my comfort zone.

 

If all goes according to plan, look for part two of this list to drop by the middle of next week!

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