I’ve read a lot of books in the last couple of years. These helped me to understand the process of deconstructing and reconstructing my personal faith. I believe that each of these would be valuable to you, for varying reasons. I’ve included the Amazon blurb for each, as well as a link to the Amazon listing for the book.
“The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity” by Skye Jethani
In the course of telling the story, Skye returns each chapter to the life and biography of Vincent van Gogh. By the time the book ended, I felt like I had rediscovered the famous painter and I really look forward to the next time I can view his paintings in person.
Amazon’s description: The challenge facing Christianity today is not a lack of motivation or resources, but a failure of imagination.A growing number of people are disturbed by the values exhibited by the contemporary church. Worship has become entertainment, the church has become a shopping mall, and God has become a consumable product. Many sense that something is wrong, but they cannot imagine an alternative way. The Divine Commodity finally articulates what so many have been feeling and offers hope for the future of a post-consumer Christianity.
Through Scripture, history, engaging narrative, and the inspiring art of Vincent van Gogh, The Divine Commodity explores spiritual practices that liberate our imaginations to live as Christ’s people in a consumer culture opposed to the values of his kingdom. Each chapter shows how our formation as consumers has distorted an element of our faith. For example, the way churches have become corporations and how branding makes us more focused on image than reality. It then energizes an alternative vision for those seeking a more meaningful faith. Before we can hope to live differently, we must have our minds released from consumerism’s grip and captivated once again by Christ.
“The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John H. Walton
This was a neat book to read. I grew up with a father who was always (as long as I remember) an “old-earth creationist” – one who didn’t believe in a literal six-day creation, but still believed in God as creator. This book tackles the issues of the science of cosmology and the origin of the earth, balanced against what the Bible says, and considers a framework for understanding how we can be fully convinced of the accuracy of scripture AND the accuracy of scientific understandings all at the same time.
Amazon’s description: In this astute mix of cultural critique and biblical studies, John H. Walton presents and defends twenty propositions supporting a literary and theological understanding of Genesis 1 within the context of the ancient Near Eastern world and unpacks its implications for our modern scientific understanding of origins. Ideal for students, professors, pastors and lay readers with an interest in the intelligent design controversy and creation-evolution debates, Walton’s thoughtful analysis unpacks seldom appreciated aspects of the biblical text and sets Bible-believing scientists free to investigate the question of origins.
“Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament” by Pete Enns
I loved Pete Enns’ concept of the incarnation of Scripture. I’ve been wrestling for a while with the idea of fallibility of the Bible, how it really does contain errors or inconsistencies, yet can be fully God’s word. This book framed the problem in a way that really freed me to relax about the matter and see God’s amazing design even within what looked like a problem to be solved.
Amazon’s description: How can an evangelical view of Scripture be reconciled with modern biblical scholarship? In this book Peter Enns, an expert in biblical interpretation, addresses Old Testament phenomena that challenge traditional evangelical perspectives on Scripture. He then suggests a way forward, proposing an incarnational model of biblical inspiration that takes seriously both the divine and the human aspects of Scripture. This tenth anniversary edition has an updated bibliography and includes a substantive postscript that reflects on the reception of the first edition.
“The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” by Peter Enns
If you’ve been wrestling with the concept of inerrancy, and find it a little too unbelievable, or if you just want to understand what all your non-conservative Christian friends are saying about mistakes in the Bible, this is a good book to read. Pete Enns tackles the subject in a casual manner, telling his story while explaining concepts of the creation and recording of Scripture from the perspective of Bible historians. By the end of the book, I was appreciating the genius of God’s word in an entirely new way. It surprised me that not requiring an absolutely inerrant scripture could help me appreciate it even more.
Amazon’s description: The controversial Bible scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.
Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.
Rejecting the increasingly complicated intellectual games used by conservative Christians to “protect” the Bible, Enns was conflicted. Is this what God really requires? How could God’s plan for divine inspiration mean ignoring what is really written in the Bible? These questions eventually cost Enns his job—but they also opened a new spiritual path for him to follow.
The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.
“The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs” by Peter Enns
Yes yes yes yes yes! Pete Enns is not going to make many hard-core evangelicals happy with this book (or really, with anything he writes) but he’s identified something that I have been talking and blogging about for a while: the idea that faith isn’t hanging on for dear life to our existing beliefs; instead it’s about the wrestling match with God, coming to grips with things that He drops in front of us to challenge and mature us.
Amazon’s description: The controversial evangelical Bible scholar and author of The Bible Tells Me So explains how Christians mistake “certainty” and “correct belief” for faith when what God really desires is trust and intimacy.
With compelling and often humorous stories from his own life, Bible scholar Peter Enns offers a fresh look at how Christian life truly works, answering questions that cannot be addressed by the idealized traditional doctrine of “once for all delivered to the saints.”
Enns offers a model of vibrant faith that views skepticism not as a loss of belief, but as an opportunity to deepen religious conviction with courage and confidence. This is not just an intellectual conviction, he contends, but a more profound kind of knowing that only true faith can provide.
Combining Enns’ reflections of his own spiritual journey with an examination of Scripture, The Sin of Certainty models an acceptance of mystery and paradox that all believers can follow and why God prefers this path because it is only this way by which we can become mature disciples who truly trust God. It gives Christians who have known only the demand for certainty permission to view faith on their own flawed, uncertain, yet heartfelt, terms.
“Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church” by Rachel Held Evans
This was a compelling book in a very readable, approachable, and friendly tone. But it tackles some hard issues with evangelicalism. It’s written from a very liturgical view, which made it a little alien to me. But this didn’t detract from the book, and in fact made it a bit more compelling in some ways. Absolutely worth the time to read.
Amazon’s description: From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.
Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals–church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.
Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.
A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.
“Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It” by Brian D. McLaren
This was a super-hard book for me to read, because it challenged a number of my core assumptions about Christianity. With that said, it was so compelling that I picked it for a book study topic after only about half of the book. I very quickly identified with the stages that he describes, and my own journey through those stages. I’ve still got a long way to go, but this gave me hope that what I’ve experienced in the last few years is very normal and there is hope ahead.
Amazon’s description: Sixty-five million adults in the U.S. have dropped out of active church attendance and about 2.7 million more are leaving every year. Faith After Doubt is for the millions of people around the world who feel that their faith is falling apart.
Using his own story and the stories of a diverse group of struggling believers, Brian D. McLaren, a former pastor and now an author, speaker, and activist shows how old assumptions are being challenged in nearly every area of human life, not just theology and spirituality. He proposes a four-stage model of faith development in which questions and doubt are not the enemy of faith, but rather a portal to a more mature and fruitful kind of faith. The four stages—Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony—offer a path forward that can help sincere and thoughtful people leave behind unnecessary baggage and intensify their commitment to what matters most.
“Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World” by Kathy Escobar
Amazon’s description: From the masses of young people spurning organized religion to faithful followers of Jesus, there is a deep hunger across gender, age, socioeconomics, and denominational backgrounds for practical, tangible ways to live a life of love, mercy, and justice in our divided, fragmented world. But where do we start? Its easy to feel overwhelmed by the worlds problems, with solutions to violence and poverty and oppression seeming so far out of reach.
But you have more power to change the world than you realize, and it starts with changing yourself.
In Practicing, Pastor Kathy Escobar inspires and challenges readers with practical encouragement to live their faith through real action using ten transformational practices, including listening more, including the marginalized, advocating for justice, and mourning with those who grieve. By putting our hearts, hands, and feet behind our good intentions, we can transform our groups, our communities, and our world. Extremely interactive, relational, and practical, Practicing can be read alone or processed together with a group, church, or class.
“Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)” edited by J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, and Stanley N. Gundry
This proved to be an incredibly useful book. As with others in this series, it basically lays out multiple viewpoints, one at a time, by multiple authors. Each author presents their view, then the other contributing authors respond to (or rebut) that author. So each case includes both perspectives. It’s a great way to get a comprehensive sense of the various viewpoints, and both pro- and con- responses to those viewpoints.
I personally found Pete Enns’ views to be the most compelling, and I was the most bothered by Al Mohler’s take on it. He basically conflates evangelicalism with Christianity, and in fact begins by calling it “the evangelical faith.”
Amazon’s description: The inerrancy of the Bible–the belief that the Bible is without error–is often a contentious topic among mainstream Christianity. Like other titles in the Counterpoints collection, this volume gives those interested in theology the tools they need to draw informed conclusions on debated issues by showcasing the range of positions in a way that helps readers understand the perspectives–especially where and why they diverge. Each essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy considers the present context, viability, and relevance for the contemporary evangelical Christian witness; whether and to what extent Scripture teaches its own inerrancy; the position’s assumed or implied understandings of the nature of Scripture, God, and truth; and three difficult biblical texts: one that concerns intra-canonical contradictions, one that raises questions of theological plurality, and one that concerns historical authenticity. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy serves not only as a single-volume resource for surveying the current debate, but also as a catalyst both for understanding and advancing the conversation further. Contributors include Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, Peter Enns, and John Franke.
“Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible” by Keith Giles
This book presents a good sense of the difference between “the Word of God,” as in Jesus the Living Word, and the word of God, the written Bible. It shows how we can fully love God without worshiping the written word, which seems to be a very common problem in this age. As people “deconstruct” and wonder about an infallible or inerrant Bible, it’s too common to be told that if we doubt the perfection of the Bible then we won’t have anything to which we can cling, and we might lose our salvation. This book does a great job of decoupling Jesus from the book about Him.
Amazon’s description:What if the Bible actually keeps us from hearing the Word of God? For many Christians, the Bible is the only way to know anything about God. But according to that same Bible, everyone can know God directly through an actual relationship with Jesus. Jesus Unbound is an urgent call for the followers of Jesus to know Him intimately because the Gospel is not mere information about God, but a transformational experience with a Christ who is closer to us than our own heartbeat.
“What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (The Church and Postmodern Culture): The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church” by John D. Caputo
I agree with the Amazon review: this book is provocative. He probably goes further than I’m willing to go at this time in approaching deconstruction, but I liked the way he took the church to task for quite a few things that we really should have surrendered ages ago.
Amazon’s description: This provocative addition to The Church and Postmodern Culture series offers a lively rereading of Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps as a constructive way forward. John D. Caputo introduces the notion of why the church needs deconstruction, positively defines deconstruction’s role in renewal, deconstructs idols of the church, and imagines the future of the church in addressing the practical implications of this for the church’s life through liturgy, worship, preaching, and teaching. Students of philosophy, theology, religion, and ministry, as well as others interested in engaging postmodernism and the emerging church phenomenon, will welcome this provocative, non-technical work.
“The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (The Lost World Series Book 1)” by John H. Walton
This series is fun.
As with some other books I’ve read, I love the way this one unflinchingly tackles the supposed historical content of the first book of the Bible, and gives some excellent cultural perspective. I’ve always been an “old earth creationist,” fully believing in creation but not that it happened in just one calendar week. This book takes things even further than I had ever thought, exploring questions about the historicity of the “first couple.” Overall, I thought that the best thing about this book (and its companion book discussed above) is showing how one does not need to consider the Bible and science or history to be at odds with each other.
Amazon’s description: For centuries the story of Adam and Eve has resonated richly through the corridors of art, literature and theology. But for most moderns, taking it at face value is incongruous. And even for many thinking Christians today who want to take seriously the authority of Scripture, insisting on a “literal” understanding of Genesis 2–3 looks painfully like a “tear here” strip between faith and science. How can Christians of good faith move forward? Who were the historical Adam and Eve? What if we’ve been reading Genesis―and its claims regarding material origins―wrong? In what cultural context was this couple, this garden, this tree, this serpent portrayed? Following his groundbreaking Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 2–3, creating space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science for a new way forward in the human origins debate. As a bonus, an illuminating excursus by N. T. Wright places Adam in the implied narrative of Paul’s theology. The Lost World of Adam and Eve will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this foundational text historically and theologically, and wondering how to view it alongside contemporary understandings of human origins.
“Jonah for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Misunderstood Prophet of the Bible (The Bible for Normal People)” by Jared Byas
Jarad Byas, and his co-host Pete Enns on the podcast “The Bible for Normal People,” are unafraid to tackle just about any third-rail issue, and they seem to take pleasure in breaking down long-standing Christian ideas about the biggest miraculous stories in the Bible. If you can go into this book with an open mind, it’s a rather fun romp through a fairly short book of the Bible.
Amazon’s description: Jonah’s encounter with a big fish is one of the most widely recognised—and misunderstood—stories in the Bible. In this highly accessible guide to the book of Jonah, Jared Byas invites modern-day readers to explore the context behind the story, and consider the questions Jonah’s early audience faced: questions about the relationship between justice and mercy, what it means to be a worshipper of Yahweh (and who gets to be one), and what happens when God doesn’t act how we would like. Through explorations of genre, language, history, themes and theology, Byas skilfully guides us on a journey with Jonah into the depths of the unknown . . . and finds many of these questions are still relevant today.
“The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins” by Peter Enns
Like Jared Byas, Pete Enns is definitely not afraid to poke at Christian tropes. Along with the two “Lost World” books, I picked this one up because I wanted a Biblical historian’s view of the story of Adam and Eve. Like those books, he does a good job of showing how we don’t have to pick between faith versus science or history.
Amazon’s description: Can Christianity and evolution coexist? Traditional Christian teaching presents Jesus as reversing the effects of the Fall of Adam. However, an evolutionary view of beginnings doesn’t allow for a historical Adam, making evolution seemingly incompatible with what Genesis and the apostle Paul say about him. For Christians who accept evolution and want to take the Bible seriously, this presents a faith-shaking tension. Peter Enns, an expert in biblical interpretation, offers a way forward by explaining how this tension is caused not by the discoveries of science but by false expectations about the biblical texts. Focusing on key biblical passages in the discussion, Enns demonstrates that the author of Genesis and the apostle Paul wrote to ask and answer ancient questions for ancient people; the fact that they both speak of Adam does not determine whether Christians can accept evolution. This thought-provoking book helps readers reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the widely held evolutionary view of beginnings and will appeal to anyone interested in the Christianity-evolution debate.
The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith
I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who’s trying to understand the literalist, inerrantist people in their lives. Smith does a great job of showing how Biblicism is effectively impossible on its own terms. But in doing so, he’s not trying to destroy the authority of the Bible; I’d suggest that he does the opposite, and shows how strongly useful the Bible can be when we read it on its own terms instead of trying to cram it into our own particular doctrines.
Amazon description: Biblicism, an approach to the Bible common among some American evangelicals, emphasizes together the Bible’s exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. Acclaimed sociologist Christian Smith argues that this approach is misguided and unable to live up to its own claims. If evangelical biblicism worked as its proponents say it should, there would not be the vast variety of interpretive differences that biblicists themselves reach when they actually read and interpret the Bible. Far from challenging the inspiration and authority of Scripture, Smith critiques a particular rendering of it, encouraging evangelicals to seek a more responsible, coherent, and defensible approach to biblical authority. This important book has generated lively discussion and debate. The paperback edition adds a new chapter responding to the conversation that the cloth edition has sparked.
Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple by Scot McKnight
This was an interesting book, but after about halfway through, I kind of got tired of it and skimmed the third quarter or so. It felt a bit pedantic at that point – reiterating the same ideas too many times. Perhaps this was because I’ve studied this topic for so long, and had heard most of his arguments in one form or another for quite a long time.
Also, while I appreciate his emphasis on the writing style and how that should shape our interpretation, I think most people who take his position make the same logical error. They assume that because it’s a largely symbolic book, one cannot ALSO find that it has a predictive value. I’ve been taught for years that prophecy in the Bible operates at multiple levels, where a given prophecy can have more than one fulfillment, each one closer to the ultimate perfect reality. We see this principle operating in prophecies in the Old Testament that refer to things the authors were describing about their own era, but later were recognized as describing Jesus. And there are likely ways they will be fulfilled in the future, too. So I think it’s a mistake to insist that one must only read Revelation as not having any specific future fulfillment.
With that said, I think McKnight does offer some excellent insights into the characters in Revelation, especially the overall concept of Babylon, and he’s right that we need to be incredibly alert to how we might fall into the trap of living in and worshiping Babylon today. (But we can still simultaneously have future specific fulfillments, and we shouldn’t miss that aspect of the prophecy.)
Amazon description: The biblical Book of Revelation frustrates and fascinates many people with its imagery and apocalyptic tone. Most popular interpretations of the book rely on a perspective known as dispensationalism, popularized by the Scofield Bible and more recently the Left Behind series of novels. Yet there are many problems with this popular way of reading Revelation, and until now, few alternatives have been available that were easy to understand.
In Revelation for the Rest of Us, Scot McKnight with Cody Matchett explore the timeless message of Revelation and how it speaks to us today with a courageous challenge to be faithful witnesses to Jesus while standing against the ever-present reality of worldly authorities. The writer, John, stimulates the imagination to see the world differently, through the eyes of God, presenting a “divine politic” that subverts the anti-god patterns of governments, empires, and those in power.
McKnight addresses the popular misconceptions about the book, explaining what John means in his use of the images of dragons, lambs, and beasts, and how the symbolism of Revelation speaks powerfully to the present day–though not in the way most people think. Drawing from the latest scholarship, they present an understanding of Revelation for anyone interested in deepening their personal study of the Bible as well as preachers looking to communicate this timeless message today.
McKnight offers in this book a discipleship manual for discerning the immoralities of political powers and how the church can be both an agent of resistance and transformation.
John designed his Book of Revelation to disciple readers into dissidents of the ways of the world and empire. John describes that empire with the term “Babylon.” Babylon is a timeless image of empire, militarism, economic exploitation, injustice, and oppression. The Book of Revelation disciples Christians through worship and the courageous challenge of faithful, or allegiant, witness to the slaughtered-Lamb. John’s dissident disciples can discern the presence of “Babylon” in our world and learn to speak up, speak out, and walk in the way of the Lamb. He disciples us by stimulating our imaginations to see the world and “Babylon” through the eyes of God, and in so doing John presents a “divine politic,” a view of government and power that subverts the anti-god patterns of “Babylon” today.
I’ll update this list as my reading continues.
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