December 31, 2017

Top Books of 2017

I've read many good books this year. Here are my choices for the best ones of 2017. I read other good books this year that were older books so I left them off the list. Those books included ones like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and The U.S. Immigration Crisis by Miguel A. De La Torre.

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 2016 list here and my 2015 list here.)


10. Trouble the Water: A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice, edited by Michael-Ray Mathews, Marie Claire P. Onwubuariri, and Cody J. Sanders

This book tackles important and challenging issues with fresh perspectives. However, like most edited collections, there is quite a lot of disparity between the chapters. But many are good, including those by Douglas Avilesbernal, Deborah DeMars Conrad, Miguel A. De La Torre, LeAnn Snow Flesher, and Wendell L. Griffen. Overall, the book is a good resource for Christians - especially white Christians - who want to work toward undoing systemic racism.


9. Strangers in the Kingdom: Ministering to Refugees, Migrants, and the Stateless by Rupen Das & Brent Hamoud

There are a number of good books on the global refugee crisis (I put one on last year's list). And given the misinformation driving fear and hatred in our political rhetoric, we clearly need such books. This one by two Baptists - one in Canada and one in Lebanon - is an excellent look at both the contemporary context and the biblical foundation for understanding the topic theologically. I wish more who clam to be Christian would adopt this perspective.


8. The Long Highway Home by Elizabeth Musser

This novel takes a look at the global refugee crisis through the eyes of several characters - both refugees and others. The switching between people is a bit disorienting at first, but soon I found myself involved in the story and wanting to find out what happens next. Although a novel, a lot of research clearly went into this book and some of the moments in the stories echo ones I've heard from people working with refugees in Europe and the Middle East. For those who won't pick up a theological book on refugees, perhaps this is exactly the book to change attitudes and hearts.


7. They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz

A senior editor of World Magazine, Belz has been traveling to the Middle East (and elsewhere) for years. In this book, she recounts many of those trips - particularly to Iraq - and the Christians she met there. Her stories are captivating and she documents their lives and their persecution. And, yet, the book still carries a hopeful tone at times. At several points it becomes clear how the U.S. failed to listen to these voices and thus made the situation even worse. Hopefully we will at least listen now.


6. From Fragmentation to Wholeness: Race, Ethnicity, and Communion by Neville Callam

The retiring General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, Callam makes the case in this book for the importance of the unity of the Body of Christ. In the years that I have known Callam, I have found him passionate on this topic. The book challenged me, excited me, and got me thinking in new ways. He mixes strong theological analysis with practical and current examples in churches. It also offers a nice introduction to Caribbean Theology (he's from Jamaica), which I've learned from in recent years. You can catch a bit of his perspective on unity in the Q&A interview I did with Callam in Word&Way earlier this year.


5. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd

The only repeat author from last year's list, I recommend just about any book by Zahnd. This book is no exception. It didn't go higher on the list for me since I didn't find it pushing me much as Zahnd and I have made similar theological journeys. But I wish I could put this book in the hand of every U.S. Christian. In particular, he does an excellent job helping us think more carefully about Jesus's death and what it reveals about God. We truly do serve a loving God.


4. Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida R. Moss & Joel S. Baden

Two biblical scholars take on a crafting retail giant now in the business of collecting ancient Bible manuscripts. And the scholars win. This well-researched and interesting narrative unpacks the problematic theology and church-state perspectives of Hobby Lobby's governing family as they attempt to change our educational system and the ways we view the Bible. I learned a lot from this book and grew increasingly concerned about the religious and political agenda of the Green family, particularly as their money and influence continues to grow.


3. When the English Fall: A Novel by David Williams

I loved this book, but I don't want to say much about it. Here's part of the publisher's description: "When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community is caught up in the devastating aftermath." A nonviolent and mostly separate community finds its world changing when that of the outside world - the "English," as the rest of us are known - falls apart. I quickly could not stop reading, flipping pages to find out what happens next. Along the way, fascinating theological debates appear without disturbing the drama.


2. The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope by Wendell L. Griffen

A black Baptist pastor and circuit court judge in Arkansas, Griffen offers the theological reflection we need in the aftermath of 81 percent of white evangelicals voting for a thrice-married, cursing casino magnate for president. Griffen doesn't pull punches, but he's also fair in his critique. He digs deep into biblical texts to offer lens to consider our current political context. I wish every white evangelical - regardless how they voted - would read this book. You can catch some of his thoughts on the topic in the Q&A interview I did with Griffen for Word&Way earlier this year.


... drum roll ...


1. Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust: The Hand of Sincere Friendship by Lee Spitzer

I learned more from this book than any I've read in a long time, and it also challenged me to reconsider issues of theology, politics, and history. The amount of research that went into producing this book - which is quite long - is impressive. Spitzer, the new General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, has done us a great service by compiling this work that examines the various ways Northern, Southern, and black Baptists responded to the rise of the Nazis and the news of the Holocaust. I hope many will read this book so we can learn from the past, rather than repeat the errors.


And if those aren't enough books to keep you busy reading, you could always check out some other books I think are pretty good.

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