2016 Reading books reading

10 Books That Helped Grow My Faith

December 24, 2016

Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just

1. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Timothy Keller)

Up until a short period prior reading this book, the phrase “social justice” was almost always seen as a pejorative term. Through our own experience and observing some of the practices that were ongoing in the urban ministry we were involved in, we came to question whether or not our current understanding of loving “the least of these” was truly biblical. Generous Justice came at an important turning point in our faith, and helped lay the foundation for a more robust theology of justice.

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women

2. Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Carolyn Custis James)

I read this book in conjunction with Half the Sky, a book that addresses oppression of women across the globe. Globally, women make up half of the world’s population; and within the church, they tend to make up an even larger percentage. James explores what it means to be a women within the church, both within and outside our Western construct of biblical womanhood. The church must work together to do God’s work here on earth. But in order to do so, women must first be given a seat a that table.

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church

3. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (David Johnson, Jeff Van Vonderen)

“What even is spiritual abuse?” “Isn’t it just a phrase that people angry at God use?” “Am I unknowingly participating in spiritual abuse?” These are common reactions to hearing the phrase spiritual abuse. This books addresses each of those questions on a deep level.

Like a disease, it’s important to identify and recognize what we’re dealing with, when we experience symptoms that show us we are sick. Daniel and I read this after being expelled from a church setting where were experiencing spiritual abuse. Working through this book helped me see that it was not Christianity itself that was toxic, but those who had used it as a tool for manipulation; some unwittingly, some perhaps more intentionally. It also helped me see how I had sadly perpetuated spiritual abuse as part of that system, and to show grace towards those who had also done so to us without realizing they were doing so. This is a book that I recommend anyone who is a church member or a church leader to read.

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited

4. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Scot McKnight)

The King Jesus Gospel helped me see “the big picture” of the Bible and to examine the metanarrative of Scripture, not just a collection of useful Bible stories and recounting of history.

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor

5. Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor
(Robert D. Lupton)

Along with Generous Justice, this book came at an important time to reconsider what it meant to minister to the poor. Lupton examines many harmful ways we practice this type of ministry, but also shows what a healthy ministry should look like. This is a book that might not have made it to a bestseller list, but is a must-read on the subject.

Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives

6. Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives (Wendy Alsup)

This book is a great starter in seeing the ways that our knowledge of God in our minds and hearts works out into how we live our lives each day.

7. Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Hannah Anderson)

As a young girl, I grew up believing my life could be played out in just a narrow spectrum of roles: primarily through motherhood or ministry under the auspices of a husband. My dad prayed daily for me to be “a pastor’s wife” or a “missionary wife,” and those were the identities in which I felt I could please God.  Yet I felt callings and passions and gifts in my life, but felt that as a Christian woman, I had to hide or deny myself from participating in those spheres of life. Made for More helped me understand what it does mean to be a Christian woman, how American Christianity has often twisted Scripture to mean something it doesn’t, and painted a beautiful picture of what it means to all work together as image bearers.

While this book is addressed primarily to women, I consider it a must-read for anyone who knows women, as well. 🙂 This is no fluffy, pink-theology book, for sure. One big treasure of the book as the thread of a Imago Dei theology coursing through it.

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

8. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman)

Heralded as a book on productivity, What’s Best Next is so much more. This book proved helpful in expanding my understanding of a theology of flourishing and why our work matters in making a difference in our world, in our families, and on an individual level. It’s holds some great productivity concepts, too; but to me, it played the most helpful role in growing my understanding of human flourishing.

Too often, there are Christian books that take broad concepts, and force a theological tone onto them; all too often, this results in legalism, mangled theology, and a superiority complex. I felt that this book avoided those pitfalls.

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

9. Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time (Jeremy Courtney)

Around 8 years ago, my husband’s theological paradigm shifted when he was struck by Christ’s words in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Could Jesus really mean this? Was love to be the marker? Or wouldn’t we be known by our holiness, high standards, and perfection? By our separation from all that could contaminate us? I would follow with my own examination of that passage, and it was that paradigm shift that would ultimately change the course of our lives and cost us greatly, in choosing between this and the community, identity, and future “career,” that had filled every part of our lives.

In the years to come, my skepticism of American Christianity would grow as I increasingly saw primarily the hostile side, played out in individual interactions (I still get lots of hate mail and threats!), American politics, and seeing a frequent rejection of “the least of these” in the name of religion. So this book came at a necessary time to demonstrate the there are still many people living out their faith and “laying down their lives” and letting their lives be known by there love for one another.

In fact, this book demonstrates not only what it looks like to love fellow-believers, but what it looks like to love ones enemies. To love preemptively, and to be a peacemaker. This book is a personal account of Jeremy Courtney’s journey founding the Preemptive Love Coalition, how it started, how it operates today, and how their vision is expanding today. Jeremy and Jessica, their family, and their organization continue to love people in the most unlikely of places: Iraq and Syria, and loving the people placed in his path. He defines it this way: “I don’t lean left or right. I lean in. I lean forward, because that’s where love lives.” Ultimately, loving people will cost us.

King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus

10. King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Timothy Keller)

In King’s Cross, Keller works through the Gospel of Mark (though not covering every single verse or passage), focusing on Jesus as King and then upon Jesus’ cross. With precision and directness, Keller describes the earth-shattering Good News of the Gospel and emphasizes how it shatters our religious paradigms and takes us further and deeper than we ever expected.



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  • Mary Beth December 26, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the lists you’ve been sharing. This is one is my favorite. My faith has grown so much stronger this year, but so have my questions. I’ve found a lot of theology holes and instead of doubting I want to fill those holes with truth. I’ve read a few on this list but the ones on justice and loving speak to me the most. Lately, I’ve been listening to anything I can find on YouTube from Tim Keller and Generous Justice came up in one of his talks. It’s next on my list of his. I am currently working on his Meaning of Marriage and The Reason For God. If you have’t listened to them already, his talks on Faith and Work have been are so good!!!!