I’ve read a lot of books in the last couple of years. The following is my personal reading list (at least, the non-fiction books), and 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. I don’t have any referral program; these are not special links in any way.
“The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein
I found this book to be extremely eye-opening. It’s a book full of well-documented and well-sourced hard facts – but ones I had never heard before. It helps give a lot of context to complaints about systemic racism in America’s history.
Amazon’s description: Widely heralded as a “masterful” (Washington Post) and “essential” (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.
“The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” by Jemar Tisby and Lecrae Moore
This was another hard-history book. I don’t fully agree with all of Tisby’s calls to action or his suggested solutions, but there is so much else of value here that I still highly recommend it. I ran a 12-week book study on this book.
Amazon’s description: The Color of Compromise is both enlightening and compelling, telling a history we either ignore or just don’t know. Equal parts painful and inspirational, it details how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. You will be guided in thinking through concrete solutions for improved race relations and a racially inclusive church. The Color of Compromise:
- Takes you on a historical, sociological, and religious journey: from America’s early colonial days through slavery and the Civil War
- Covers the tragedy of Jim Crow laws, the victories of the Civil Rights era, and the strides of today’s Black Lives Matter movement
- Reveals the cultural and institutional tables we have to flip in order to bring about meaningful integration
- Charts a path forward to replace established patterns and systems of complicity with bold, courageous, immediate action
- Is a perfect book for pastors and other faith leaders, students, non-students, book clubs, small group studies, history lovers, and all lifelong learners
The Color of Compromise is not a call to shame or a platform to blame white evangelical Christians. It is a call from a place of love and desire to fight for a more racially unified church that no longer compromises what the Bible teaches about human dignity and equality. A call that challenges black and white Christians alike to standup now and begin implementing the concrete ways Tisby outlines, all for a more equitable and inclusive environment among God’s people. Starting today.
This book, also by Tisby, is a very practical book, less historical, but more down-to-earth suggestions.
Amazon’s description: In this follow-up to the New York Times Bestseller the Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby offers an array of actionable items to confront racism. How to Fight Racism introduces a simple framework—the A.R.C. Of Racial Justice—that teaches readers to consistently interrogate their own actions and maintain a consistent posture of anti-racist behavior. The A.R.C. Of Racial Justice is a clear model for how to think about race in productive ways:
- Awareness: educate yourself by studying history, exploring your personal narrative, and grasping what God says about the dignity of the human person.
- Relationships: understand the spiritual dimension of race relations and how authentic connections make reconciliation real and motivate you to act.
- Commitment: consistently fight systemic racism and work for racial justice by orienting your life to it.
Tisby offers practical tools for following this model and suggests that by applying these principles, we can help dismantle a social hierarchy long stratified by skin color. He encourages rejection passivity and active participation in the struggle for human dignity. There is hope for transforming our nation and the world, and you can be part of the solution.
“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi
This was an extremely hard book for me to read – not because of big words or challenging intellectual concepts, but simply to see a side of American history that I had never been taught that so completely broke down my white-man assumptions about our history. Kendi has a PhD in history; this book is written with all the intellectual rigor and careful sourcing as one would expect from a PhD. As with The Color of Compromise, I highly recommend it. But be aware: it’s a very long book with a ton of historical detail.
Amazon’s description: Some Americans insist that we’re living in a post-racial society. But racist thought is not just alive and well in America–it is more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis. As Kendi shows, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. They were created to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities. In shedding light on this history, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose racist thinking. In the process, he gives us reason to hope.
“Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” by Emmanuel Acho
I saw this book on the table at BJs, and went home and bought it on Kindle. It’s a friendly, easy read despite the challenging topic. Acho is very approachable and soft-spoken, but addresses plenty of difficult tropes and questions.
Amazon’s description: “You cannot fix a problem you do not know you have.” So begins Emmanuel Acho in his essential guide to the truths Americans need to know to address the systemic racism that has recently electrified protests in all fifty states. “There is a fix,” Acho says. “But in order to access it, we’re going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations.” In Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Acho takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white Americans are afraid to ask—yet which all Americans need the answers to, now more than ever. With the same open-hearted generosity that has made his video series a phenomenon, Acho explains the vital core of such fraught concepts as white privilege, cultural appropriation, and “reverse racism.” In his own words, he provides a space of compassion and understanding in a discussion that can lack both. He asks only for the reader’s curiosity—but along the way, he will galvanize all of us to join the antiracist fight.
“Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Wow. Okay, this book, the target of my second book study, is a mixed grab bag of indisputable history facts with a bit of grandstanding from someone who was clearly wounded by patriarchy. But despite the flaws that we uncovered, it’s another deep dive into a side of American history that is both undeniable and simultaneously steadfastly ignored by the evangelical branch of America’s church culture. Worth the read.
Amazon’s description: Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping, revisionist history of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, revealing how evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism—or in the words of one modern chaplain, with “a spiritual badass.” As acclaimed scholar Kristin Du Mez explains, the key to understanding this transformation is to recognize the centrality of popular culture in contemporary American evangelicalism. Many of today’s evangelicals might not be theologically astute, but they know their VeggieTales, they’ve read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and they learned about purity before they learned about sex—and they have a silver ring to prove it. Evangelical books, films, music, clothing, and merchandise shape the beliefs of millions. And evangelical culture is teeming with muscular heroes—mythical warriors and rugged soldiers, men like Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Mel Gibson, and the Duck Dynasty clan, who assert white masculine power in defense of “Christian America.” Chief among these evangelical legends is John Wayne, an icon of a lost time when men were uncowed by political correctness, unafraid to tell it like it was, and did what needed to be done. Challenging the commonly held assumption that the “moral majority” backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 for purely pragmatic reasons, Du Mez reveals that Trump in fact represented the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values: patriarchy, authoritarian rule, aggressive foreign policy, fear of Islam, ambivalence toward #MeToo, and opposition to Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community. A much-needed reexamination of perhaps the most influential subculture in this country, Jesus and John Wayne shows that, far from adhering to biblical principles, modern white evangelicals have remade their faith, with enduring consequences for all Americans.
“Building a Multiethnic Church: A Gospel Vision of Grace, Love, and Reconciliation in a Divided World” by Derwin L. Gray and Matt Chandler
This is a wonderfully visionary book meant to be read by church leaders, but inspiring for the layperson. With that said, I think there are some practicalities in the suggestions, but that didn’t stop me from appreciating the vision-casting from a former NFL star turned pastor.
Amazon’s description: America has become a beautiful mosaic filled with many colors and ethnicities—but does your church reflect this change? Are you longing to be a cross-cultural leader who can guide the church into a multicolored world for the sake of the gospel? If so, Building a Multiethnic Church will give you the tools to embrace an invigorated community of grace, love, and reconciliation. In Building a Multiethnic Church, bestselling author and pastor Dr. Derwin Gray calls all churches and their leaders to grow out of ignorance, classism, racism, and greed into a flourishing, vibrant, and grace-filled community of believers. Drawing on wisdom from the early church and the New Testament, Gray will help you understand that planting and transforming churches into multiethnic communities is a biblical calling; identify and implement the best practices to help build multiethnic churches; and recognize that reconciliation between ethnic groups in the church is not just a social issue, but a theological issue that cannot be ignored.
“Listening to the Language of the Bible: Hearing It Through Jesus’ Ears” by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema
Not what I expected, but interesting nonetheless. This is more like a daily devotional than anything else, touching on a number of Biblical terms and phrases that have more rich context than many Western readers would expect.
Amazon’s description: Listening to the Language of the Bible is a guide for discovering the richness of the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting. The book contains more than 60 brief, illustrated devotional articles that unpack the meaning of biblical words and phrases for life today. By examining the Hebrew and Jewish cultural context of some of the Bible’s seemingly odd phrases, it shares insights that clarify reading and deepen Bible study. Listening looks at many topics from the perspective of the ancient writers, including prayer, family and the promised Messiah. It also looks at the words of Jesus in light of first-century Jewish culture. The book can be read by itself for a brief overview, or with the Companion Bible Study as a guide to explore the Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective.
“Church Comes Home: Start a House Church Network Anywhere” by David L. Barnhart Jr.
This was a powerful book, casting a vision for a different type of church model. Not everyone can do it, but Barnhart makes a compelling case for the need for and value of this different model.
Amazon’s description: People have lost faith in all collective institutions: government, corporations, the media, and the church. We are in the midst of a spiritual disaster, a flood of biblical proportions, and house churches provide lifeboats for people who are seeking a more authentic, life-giving form of Christian community. Many people remember that the early church started in homes, but they don’t understand that house churches are still a legitimate and viable model today. House churches can create the intimacy so many people are hungry for. They can nurture life-changing discipleship for individuals and create justice-centered communities. Networked house churches can become truly diverse, multi-ethnic communities that spread the Gospel by emphasizing practices over programs. These communities de-center the preacher, opting instead for grassroots organizing, but they are not leaderless — they are leader-full. This book provides an alternative model for denominations and established churches to consider. It will help pastors reconnect with the traditions of community organizing, itinerant preaching, and discipleship training that sparked Methodism and other church movements in the United States. Church Comes Home offers alternative ways to look at some of the problems facing our church and our culture.
“The City Gate: The Prosperity & Protection of Cities & Churches” by John Kingsley Alley
This book actually first got me thinking about how institutional church sometimes works against its own best interests, and more importantly, sometimes works against the Kingdom. Starting with an amazing, well-documented miraculous story from Australia, it walks through the author’s process of personally encountering the Lord in new ways and new revelations about the Lord’s goal for His church.
Amazon Description: This is a unique book. A combination of profound truths, presented in narrative and biblical theology, along with perceptive insight from a fathering heart, combine to bring an authoritative, apostolic message to the Body of Christ. This cut-through teaching, coming from a seasoned, mature, apostolic voice, is timely. In making clear the Word of our Lord Jesus and the words of His apostles, it calls for a profound change in the visible structure of the Church, and in the way we live out the expressed values of Christianity. To embrace the biblical imperative of establishing City Elderships would fly in the face of much vested interest in the Church. But vested interest does not stand in the judgement day. We must live, rather, by the fear of the Lord.
“Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World” by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James
This book was the topic of my third book study. This book is simply amazing. It is a lot more fun and interesting to read than any of the others listed here; it’s not emotionally challenging at all. Rather, it shares a different way of seeing the world – not more right than Westerners, just very different. But critically, it shows with dozens of specific examples how we Western Christians are missing some very important context in many parts of scripture, that really unlock a lot of additional meaning to the Bible.
Amazon’s description: The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it’s easy to misinterpret important elements―or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision. Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean―kinship, patronage, and brokerage―along with their key social tools―honor, shame, and boundaries―that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter’s instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life. Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.
“The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth” by Beth Allison Barr
This is another hard-history book, mixed with the author’s personal life story. Worth reading, especially if you are wondering about the complementarian/egalitarian divide, or if you’re wrestling with the role of women in Christian church culture.
Amazon’s description: Biblical womanhood–the belief that God designed women to be submissive wives, virtuous mothers, and joyful homemakers–pervades North American Christianity. From choices about careers to roles in local churches to relationship dynamics, this belief shapes the everyday lives of evangelical women. Yet biblical womanhood isn’t biblical, says Baylor University historian Beth Allison Barr. It arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments. This book moves the conversation about biblical womanhood beyond Greek grammar and into the realm of church history–ancient, medieval, and modern–to show that this belief is not divinely ordained but a product of human civilization that continues to creep into the church. Barr’s historical insights provide context for contemporary teachings about women’s roles in the church and help move the conversation forward. Interweaving her story as a Baptist pastor’s wife, Barr sheds light on the #ChurchToo movement and abuse scandals in Southern Baptist circles and the broader evangelical world, helping readers understand why biblical womanhood is more about human power structures than the message of Christ.
“The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart” by Mark Achtemeier
This book, together with “Unclobbered,” seriously challenged my understanding of the main verses used to attack LGBT people and reject all forms of non-cisgender, non-binary understanding. Very well argued and compelling, although its conclusions are so drastically different than what I grew up with that it will take some time to think it through.
Amazon’s description: In the early 2000’s, Mark Achtemeier embarked on a personal journey with the Bible that led him from being a conservative, evangelical opponent of gay rights to an outspoken activist for gay marriage and a fully inclusive church. In The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, Achtemeier shares what led to his change of heart: the problems with excluding groups of people and the insights into the Bible’s message that led him to recognize the fullness of God’s love and support for LGBT persons. Readers will discover how reading snippets of Scripture out of context has led to false and misleading interpretations of the Bible’s message for gay people. Achtemeier shows how a careful reading of the whole Scripture reveals God’s good news about love, marriage, and sexuality for gay and straight people alike.
“UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality” by Colby Martin and Glennon Doyle Melton
This book, together with “The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage,” seriously challenged my understanding of the main verses used to attack LGBT people and reject all forms of non-cisgender, non-binary understanding. Very well argued and compelling, although its conclusions are so drastically different than what I grew up with that it will take some time to think it through.
Amazon’s description: Churches in America are experiencing an unprecedented fracturing due to their belief and attitude toward the LGBTQ community. Armed with only six passages in the Bible–often known as the “clobber passages”–the traditional Christian position has been one that stands against the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Unclobber reexamines each of those frequently quoted passages of Scripture, alternating with author Colby Martin’s own story of being fired from an evangelical megachurch when they discovered his stance on sexuality. UnClobber reexamines what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality in such a way that breathes fresh life into outdated and inaccurate assumptions and interpretations.
I’ll update this list as my reading continues.