Every year I seek to honor those books, which were published during the past year that I've read and think are worthy of special attention. Besides a Book of the Year, I want to recognize a number of other books that merit this attention, books that have affected and influenced my life. Of course, I can only honor those books I've read, and so my list may look different from other lists (and there are books I've read this year that were published earlier, that I have found very compelling as well). But these are the ones that standout to me, books that I would recommend for your reading. After the book of the year, the rest of the best are found listed and described under three categories: Public life, religion, and history; Bible and Theology; and Church and Spirituality.
THE COLOR OF CHRIST: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. 325 pages.
Ed Blum and Paul Harvey have written an incredibly compelling account of the way color/race has influenced the way Jesus has been portrayed and understood throughout American history. As soon as I finished reading this book, I knew that it would take an extra-special book to keep it from being Book of the Year. I've read a number of excellent books, but none came to its level. As the book clearly demonstrates -- if we are to understand American Christianity we must understand the way race and color have factored into our conversations, and if we're to move beyond our racial/ethnic divides, then we must undestand how our pictures of Jesus influence our relationships It is, therefore, a must read. My review can be found here.
Public Life, Religion, and History
Eboo Patel, SACRED GROUND: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. Xxix + 192 pages.
Eboo Patel has made a name as one of the most important young religious leaders in America. A Muslim, he has been at the forefront of interfaith activism. In this important book, Patel argues that one can be and should be deeply committed to one's own faith and also work to build bridges across faith lines. Patel's book will help people of faith navigate the increasingly pluralistic context in faithful and respectful ways. My review is here.
Stephen Prothero, THE AMERICAN BIBLE: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. San Francisco: Harper One, 2012. 533 pages.
Americans don't know their (our) history. We don't understand the complexity of our inheritance, but Stephen Prothero has done us a great service by bringing together in a rather unique fashion key documents and statements from history that help illuminate our heritage. This is a book to have on the table, for ready reference and "devotional" reading. This isn't divine revelation, but these texts have a certain aura about them -- even the ones you heartily reject. Review is here.
Bible and Theology
Dale P. Andrews, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, and Ronald J. Allen, Editors. PREACHING GOD'S TRANSFORMING JUSTICE: A Lectionary Commentary, Year C.Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. Xxvii + 504 pp.
Lectionary preachers who believe that the biblical message has implications for justice in our world will find this series of lectionary commentaries a great help. The second volume, under the primary editorship of Dale Andrews addresses the texts for Year C. The volume for Year B was edited by Ron Allen, with the third volume to be edited by Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm. For more on this series, see my review here.J.R. Daniel Kirk, JESUS HAVE I LOVED, BUT PAUL? : A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity. By J.R. Daniel Kirk. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011. Ix + 214 pages.
Paul has his admirers, but he also has many detractors. He's not nearly as lovable as Jesus. Daniel Kirk has tried to help us better understand Paul's theology and practice in this helpful volume, approaching the issue from an evangelical, but critically aware perspective. Well worth exploring! My review is found here.
Jennifer M. McBride THE CHURCH FOR THE WORLD: A Theology of Public Witness.New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Xiv + 295 pages.
As one who believes that faith has public implications -- after all I published my own book on the subject in 2012 entitled Faith in the Public Square -- and who has had a long standing appreciation for the witness and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was excited to receive, read, and review Jennifer McBride's book that rings together Bonhoeffer's own witness with how faith can enter the public square in the contemporary American setting. Check out my review here.
Amos Yong, THE BIBLE, DISABILITY, AND THE CHURCH: A New Vision of the People of God. By Amos Yong. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011. Xiii + 161 pp.
I decided to make an exception to my rule regarding books published in 2012. Since I received and read this book by Amos Yong in 2012, and found it so compelling that I invited the author to come to my church and lead a weekend series of seminars on this topic, I thought it worth bringing into our conversation. In this book Amos Yong not only looks at the issue of disability from a biblical perspective, but helps us read the Bible through the lens of disability. This is a truly important book, so take up and read. My review is here.
Amos Yong, SPIRIT OF LOVE: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace. By Amos Yong. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012. Xviii +228 pages.
If it appears that I've become a fan of Amos Yong, you might be correct. Amos is a productive writer, and this year he published this theological study of the Holy Spirit that has proven exceptionally helpful to me as I've pondered my own understanding of the Holy Spirit. Amos is a Pentecostal who engages the biblical, the theological, the scientific, and the broader religious worlds. If you are at all inclined to consider the nature of the Holy Spirit and the possibilities inherent in the Pentecostal message for the broader Christian community, then you'll want to read this book. My review is here.
Church and Spirituality
Sara Gaston Barton, A WOMAN CALLED: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle.By Sara Gaston Barton. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012. 220 pages.
What if you had an abiding sense of call to preach and recognized gifts in teaching and your faith tradition said no to that calling? What would you do? Sara Barton, who is a personal friend, and a frequent pulpit guest at my congregation has written a powerful testimony to her own call, her path to understanding that call, and her decision to stay within her tradition to bear witness to God's call to women preachers. You will be blessed by her story, and if you struggle with whether women should preach and teach, then hear Sara's testimony. You'll find my review here.
Diana Butler Bass, CHRISTIANITY AFTER RELIGION: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. San Francisco: Harper One, 2012. 294 pages.
Diana Butler Bass has been for some time one of the most important observers and interpreters of contempory religious life. Her book Christianity for the Rest of Us has influenced countless Mainline Protestants, helping us/them perceive the possibilities for a progressive understanding of faith. In Christianity after Religion, Diana offers an interpretation that carries both good and bad news. Institutional faith will be increasingly challenged, but there is a deep and abiding desire to experience the presence of God. This book offers more analysis than answers, but it remains an important piece of the conversation and should be read widely. My review can be found here.
Kent Ira Groff, CLERGY TABLE TALK: Eavesdropping on Ministry Issues in the 21st Century. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2012. 100 pages.
Okay, I'm cheating a bit here. I must confess to being the editor of the series in which this book appears, but I think it is very valuable book for clergy. The chapters are brief, but help provoke conversations among clergy that can sustain them in their journey of service to God and church. This is the first contribution to a new series of books for clergy sponsored by the Academy of Parish Clergy.Justin Lee. TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. New York: Jericho Books, 2012. 259 pages.
Is it possible to be Gay and Christian? The answer -- increasingly -- is yes. Even as society becomes more open to the possibility, more and LGBT folk are coming out of the closet, and we're discovering that they are faithful and committed Christians. The church has been slow to come to terms with this reality, but what it needs most is wise guides to the conversation, men and women, both gay and straight, who are willing to address the issue with grace and truth. Justin Lee is a rather conservative Christian who has come to terms with his own sexual orientation and shares with us his story in a compelling manner. So I offer my hearty recommendation. The review is found here.
Lamin Sanneh. SUMMONED FROM THE MARGIN: Homecoming of an African. By Lamin Sanneh. Foreword by Kelefa Sanneh. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012. Xx + 281 pages.
I wasn't sure where to place this book, for it is a primer on interfaith relationships a memoir, and a book of theology. Wherever it might belong a Best Books list, it is an important contribution to ouir thinking on matters religious, theological, and missional. What does it mean to convert from one faith to another? What is the relatoinship between Islam and Christianity? What is the relationship between Africa and the West? What are ongoing effects of colonialism? These are some of the topics that emerge in this powerful memoir by one of the leading interpreters of global Christianity and Muslim-Christian understanding. My review is here.