Top Books of 2016

December 31, 2016

I've read many good books this year. Here are my choices for the best ones of 2016. I read other good books this year that were older books so I left them off the list. And I'm sure I'll eventually read some other good books published this year. But here's my top ten that I read from this year. I hope you find some of these interesting and check them out. (You can find my 2015 list here.)

10. Arab Evangelicals in Israel by Azar Ajaj, Duane Miller, and Philip Sumpter

Co-written by my friend Azar, this book outlines the history and struggles of Arab evangelicals in Israel. I've learned a lot from Azar and other Arab Baptists in recent years at meetings of the Baptist World Alliance. This book traces the rise and growth of Baptists and other evangelicals in Israel. While U.S. evangelicals often talk about supporting the nation of Israel, this book explores the context from the view of evangelicals actually living there. Many U.S. evangelicals could find their assumptions challenged and their faith enriched by this book.

9. God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

As always, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is a must-read. This book, drawn from lectures at Fuller Theological Seminary, explores issues of government and community. In particular, he contrasts the demands of imperial rulers - like Pharaoh, Solomon, and others - with the divine call to love our neighbors. Empires care about themselves, not others. In classic Brueggemann style, he offers his counter-narrative while staying faithful to the biblical texts.

8. Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Issam Smeir

The world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis ever. While we occasionally see headlines, the stories always seem to fade away. This book by three leaders of World Relief (a global organization serving refugees) offers depth to move beyond the fleeting headlines and political soundbites. The authors mix data about the crisis with stories of individual refugees. They look at political and religious issues at play, and offer practical steps of how individuals, churches, and nations can act.

7. America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis

In this book, author and activist Jim Wallis offers a timely analysis of race and religion. The key argument of this book can be summed in this statement he makes: "If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children." Sadly, he's correct. Published before the election, Wallis's words ring even more true now. 


Part-autobiography, part-theological essay, and part-missional guide, this book is convicting as Greenfield challenges Christians to find ways to more radically live out the teachings of Jesus. He organizes the book into key areas, such as community, charity, parenting, vulnerability, citizenship, and more. In each chapter, he calls us to live out the teachings of the biblical Jesus, not the domesticated version of our culture.

5. Water to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd

Over the years, megachurch pastor Brian Zahnd underwent quite a transformation. In this book, he describes his shift as moving from a faith of consumerism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, individualism, and politicism to a faith centered on values of the cross, mystery, eclectic, community, and revolution. An interesting and easy-to-read personal story, he lays out some visions of how we can all grow in our faith.

4. Field Hospital: The Church's Engagement with a Wounded World by William Cavanaugh

The latest book from one of the most brilliant political theologians, this collection of essays includes some important discussions on religion, politics, economics, and violence. Some of the essays are a bit dense (and only part of a conversation as they are in response to someone else), but other essays make this a great read. The title comes from a statement by Pope Francis and is a beautiful metaphor for thinking about churches.

3. The Distrubances: The Untold Story of How Missionaries Saved Lives in a Time of Tribal Genocide by Robert Parham

This book serves as a companion piece to the new EthicsDaily.com documentary The Disturbances. While the film is powerful and worth checking out, this book also works as a stand-alone project. Robert Parham, who grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria, tells the story of the mostly-forgotten 1966 genocide in Nigeria and the roles missionaries played to save lives. It's a gripping, inspiring true tale that must not be forgotten. .

2. Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us by Shane Claiborne

Author and activist Shane Claiborne tackles an important subject - and I hope Christians will carefully consider his arguments and stories. If Christians will take a stand against the death penalty, it would signal the end of a barbaric, discriminatory, ineffective, and unredemptive form of punishment. Please especially read this book if you support capital punishment.

1. Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan

Weaving together personal stories and missional insights, this book offers insights for working toward justice. Kent Annan's five practices are attention (we must pay attention to be awoken to justice needs), confession (we need to get ourselves set so we can engage others well), respect (we must follow the 'golden rule' in how we treat others), partnering (we must realize we are working with other people not for them), and truthing (we must be honest in assessing what we do). I wrote a longer review of the book in July.

One additional book I'd like to note from this year is my own, so I'll add it here as a bonus 11th book. I'm too biased to put it on the list, but I think it's pretty good! Although I wrote it for the election, the themes in the book are still relevant as we start a new presidential term.

Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principles by Brian Kaylor

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