Grace and Non-Fiction Books of 2021

As I look back at the non-fiction books I read last year, it’s pretty clear where my interests lie. Theology and how our beliefs play out in our lives, the church and our communities fascinates me. Each of these books can be thought of in that way and these and many more have given me plenty to ponder. Looking back over these books, many of which describe Christians failing to live like Christ, I realize that the first book in this list is the most important.

Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I’ve read a lot of discouraging words in the books that follow, but God’s grace is extravagant. He knows each one of us, our tendency to sin and our skill at overlooking it, and he extends us grace after grace after grace. “God planned it all this way so that we could come to see our great need for him and treasure all he has done for us, discovering that no matter how evil we may truly be, his grace is greater still.” (p. 166) This book reminded me of that wonderful truth.

Let Justice Roll Down and One Blood by John Perkins. Perkins encountered racism from a young age, and Let Justice Roll Down is the shocking, horrifying, and compelling story of his early years. One Blood is written near the end of his life, and his thesis is that there is one race: the human race. The fact that he can still love his white brothers and sisters after his difficult experiences with racism speaks of the transformative power of Christ in his life.

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley. McCaulley shows us that the Bible is understood differently by people of color. Everyone brings their own background and experience to the Bible, but most of the theologians and commentary writers that I’ve read have been white men. Reading While Black provides an important and welcome perspective.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates. Coates describes his experience growing up in Baltimore, facing difficulties with police, other men, and even parents who disciplined their children severely to keep them safe. He says, “But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.” p. 7

White Too Long by Robert P. Jones. Jones’s research demonstrates that white supremacy has long been embedded into Christianity of all denominations. He cites data indicating that while white Christians feel warmly toward African Americans, when asked for opinions on policy there is a disconnect between how Christians feel and how they think and act. It’s a disturbing but necessary book to read.

Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace by Patricia Raybon and Alana Raybon. A thought-provoking book from the perspectives of a mother and daughter who had very different views of God and beliefs. They both had to give the other grace to express her religion as she saw fit, and it was difficult, but they worked through it and found peace.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr. Barr is a professor of history who looks at women and the church through a historian’s lens. She points out that women had leadership roles in the church in the past and theorizes that patriarchy has been repackaged time after time to fit into each culture. Barr writes, “Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus.” (p. 217)

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez. DuMez theorizes that patriarchy and tough guy nationalism combined to take some prominent evangelical leaders off track. Was it an overreaction to feminism, an honest (if mistaken) theology or a desire for power that caused them to emphasize John Wayne types instead of Jesus? Probably a complicated mix of all of the above and more. This book was difficult to read, and I can only hope that we learn a lesson from it.

Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot McKnight. We know from the gospels that Jesus initiated the kingdom of God. What should the kingdom look like today? Churches tend to emphasize either individual salvation or social gospel, but the kingdom of God is about both. McKnight makes a case that the church and the kingdom of God should be thought of as synonymous.

What’s So Funny About God? A Theological Look at Humor by Steve Wilkens. Wilkens says that contradictions, incongruent circumstances, irony, satire, and sarcasm are the humor techniques God uses in most in the Bible, and they help us to see the absurdity of situations. We might even see ourselves as a bit ridiculous. He wonders whether there will be humor in heaven where there will be no contradictions and nothing to poke fun at, yet he is convinced that we will joyfully laugh. I agree.

The Bible is God’s word to us, and I believe it. From the books listed above, you see that we all read it differently, but it is still the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and when we read it, the Holy Spirit informs us and illuminates the text. That’s why I read it in its entirety every year.

Christians, as proven by the books in this list and many others, are desperate for the grace of God. Can God really love everyone, even when we make lousy choices? Can his sovereignty and wisdom bring good out of all the bad stuff that his followers have done? I believe so. From Genesis to Revelation, God demonstrates his unfailing love and extravagant grace for each one of us.

What books have gotten you thinking this year?

Photo by Javier Martínez on Unsplash

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