Annotated August Reading List

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Institia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Alister McGrath)

This book is the definitive (if scholars may use that word) resource on how justification has been understood throughout church history. The book is written against the backdrop of the current justification/works debate, fueled by the so-called “The New Perspective on Paul” (NPP). Though McGrath doesn’t deal with NPP directly, his book provides information essential to that debate. As an academic work, and due to McGrath’s particular writing style, it does not attempt to present the material in a user-friendly manner. Some working knowledge of Latin will be helpful.

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Augustine of Hippo: A Life (Henry Chadwick)

To date, there is no biography on Augustine that matches the intellectual depth of the one by Peter Brown. However, this brief overview of Augustine by Chadwick is a welcome addition to the field. While nowhere near the breadth of Brown’s work, Chadwick’s biography is a rare combination of being intellectually penetrating while fun to read. It is not easy to read (Chadwich was a towering academic), but it is fun to read.

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Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (J.N.D. Kelly)

Few figures equaled Jerome’s influence on Medieval scholarship and spirituality. Noted for his acerbic speech and caustic demeanor, Jerome was the embodiment of the modern understanding of being “dogmatic.” As is the case today, such dogmatism draws admirers and casts a long shadow, sometimes for the church’s betterment but often to its detriment. Kelly’s scholarship is genuine and remarkably thorough. His writing style isn’t warm, but neither is it difficult or cumbersome.

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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Robin DiAngelo)

This book has virtually dominated the current race discussions taking place in our country. Written by a white person, for white persons, the book analyzes the various virulent reactions of White Americans whenever race or racial injustice is raised in the conversation. Not only did she pointedly describe each of these reactions, but it also forced me to come to grips with the startling frequency of my encounters with these reactions. DiAngelo writes from the perspective of Critical Race Theory. That term is thrown around a lot as a pejorative (usually by people who have never read CRT authors). Indeed, there are elements of CRT that are incompatible with a biblical worldview. This book, however, represents the best CRT has to offer.

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How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren)

One of the biggest problems in the church today (mimicking a chief problem in the larger society) is the failure to read well. What is the author trying to say? What are the chief arguments the author is making? Adler & Van Doren wrote a guide to help the reader ask (and answer) these questions. Using the paradigm of “levels” of reading, the authors guide the reader in the science and art of reading well. It is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the Bible better (or any book, for that matter).

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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibram Kendi)

I’ve read many books, quite a few which impressed me and others even changed me. Yet few have rattled my soul and mind to the degree of this mammoth work by Ibram Kendi. Well researched (the footnotes are insane), Kendi offers a robust and scholarly assessment of our nation’s founding (beginning centuries before our arrival) and the racist ideas that fueled European, and then American, society. If you don’t believe in systemic racism, please read this book. At no point does Kendi attack America. This book is a work of scholarship, not a polemic against “Whiteness.” Any offense it causes is taken, not given.

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The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump (Edited by Ronald Sider)

I was disappointed with the book, but to be fair I had different expectations. A collection of assorted essays by various Christian academics, the book attempts to establish a case for seeing Donald Trump as a spiritual danger to our nation and our churches. While I sympathize with the book’s goals and even agree with many of the articles, it was disappointing that so few biblical scholars and theologians were represented in the book. Surely a book attempting to establish a biblical case regarding the morality/immorality as President Trump would have been better served by including scholars in that same field.

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How to be an Antiracist (Ibram Kendi)

In some ways, this could be viewed as a companion volume to his larger book Stamped From the Beginning. Whereas that other volume is a definitive history, this volume is more of a personal story and call to action. Using the term “antiracist”, Kendi convincingly argues that in a racially-obsessed world filled with racial injustice, it is not enough to simple “not be a racist”. Actively opposing racism (“an antiracist”) is necessary.

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The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachen)

In 1 Chron 12:32, we are told the Israelite men of Issachar “understood their times and new what to do.” In this book, Strachen & Vanhoozen make the biblical case for pastors to be men who understand our times and speak biblical truth into our culture. Often pastors (and more commonly, congregations) view the pastor as the chaplain who attends to the Christian flock’s spiritual needs. While not discounting that role, this book calls on pastors to engage with the secular world, speaking prophetic truth and presenting Christ’s vision for redemption, restoration, and wholeness.

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Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters (Carmen Imes)

A masterfully written exposition of the 10 Commandments (with a particular focus on #3), Imes correctly encourages us to see the Old Testament law not as legislation, but rather as a call to character formation. I wish I had this book earlier this year when I preached through the 10 Commandments, as she demonstrates that “taking God’s name in vain” has little to do with cuss words and everything to do with how you and I represent Him in our everyday lives. The book nerd in me LOVED that she gives helpful bibliographies at the end of each chapter. For her more scholarly work on the same subject manner, see her book “Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai: A Reexamination of the Name Command of the Decalogue” (Eisenbrauns, 2018).

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The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions (Tremper Longman)

This isn’t a short book, nor is it an easy book. That isn’t to say it’s poorly written, quite the opposite. Longman is a well known and deeply respected biblical scholar while numerous published books, commentaries, and articles. Instead, when I say it isn’t an easy book, I mean that it forces the reader to deeply engage with the biblical texts, the meaning of those texts, and their ideas. Here is a premier example of good hermeneutics, combined with good biblical theology, producing an erudite application of Christian morality to our political world. Longman tackles all the major political controversies of our day, applying Scriptural principles to each (gay marriage, poverty, war, religious liberty, immigration, abortion, the environment, taxes, etc.). His chapter on abortion will probably cause the most angst among Evangelicals. He argues for a nuanced (though fully prolife) position that considers abortion a severe violation of biblical teachings. However, the precise violation isn’t murder (based on his delineation between actual and potential human life). In his view, abortion is morally wrong because it sinfully ends the potential of human life currently developing in the womb.

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Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians to Confront Racism and Injustice (Eric Mason)

Justice is at the heart of Scripture, and Scripture is at the heart of this book. If you are triggered by the words justice/injustice, race, “woke,” or racism, this book isn’t for you. Indeed, I would argue no book is for you, even the Bible. But if you are willing to listen to concepts and ideas, rather than react to words and terms, then this book offers an excellent assessment of the Bible’s call to action on issues of (in this case, racial) injustice. Like a good preacher (which he is), Mason offers things believers must do to be obedient to God’s call for justice: 1. Be Aware, 2. Be Willing to Acknowledge, 3. Be Accountable, and 4. Be Active.

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The Logic of God: 52 Essentials for the Heart and Mind (Ravi Zacharias)

My wife and I purchased this after Ravi’s death this past May. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Ravi (preferably, a love/irritation relationship). On the one hand, he is an intelligent believer who has effectively presented Christianity’s essential truth claims to non-believing audiences. On the other hand, he has rightly been accused of faux-intellectualism (and then, of course, there were a few moral scandals). Yet I cannot deny that Ravi has been profoundly helpful to me, and even more so to thousands of others. What is remarkable about this particular book is its astounding simplicity. Ravi says, “I am convinced that Jesus Christ alone uniquely answers the deepest questions of our hearts and minds to all our difficulties and dilemmas.” At its core, the Christian message is remarkably simple, and this book not only captures that simplicity, but it also explains how it applies to the most profound issues of our lives.

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Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology (Michael Bird)

One Amazon reviewer says, “Michael Bird is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors,” and I readily agree. In this academic work, Bird addresses an ancient theological controversy and, as such, interacts with other heavyweight scholars (Ehrman, Dunn, etc.) and ancient writers and commentators. The theological issue here is “adoptionism,” which is an ancient heresy that taught there was a time when Jesus was not the Son of God. While Bird makes a compelling case for rejecting this as heretical, another value of this work is Bird’s ability to write about profoundly academic issues in a way still accessible to the average reader (unlike Alister McGrath, for example).

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Requisition for a Thief: A Diamond for the Taking (J.A. Devereaux)

I don’t read a lot of fiction (an exception being classic works), but I’m glad I made an exception. I have the additional advantage of being friends with the author and her husband. Part of a multibook series, Devereaux has become a master at leading the audience to root for the classically good “bad boy.” In this particular story, we follow the adventures of Gregg and Carly. Easy to read and hard to put down.

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Taking Back America For God: Christian Nationalism in the United Stated (Andrew Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry)

Drawing on multiple surveys and in-depth interviews, Whitehead and Perry explore the concept of Christian Nationalism, which the belief that the United States is and should be a “Christian nation.” At its heart, Christian nationalism desires a specific social order and expect everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, to live according to that order. Over the past several decades, the “culture wars” are seen mostly along these lines, as advocates for Christian Nationalism are reacting to an increasingly secular nation.

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The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. DuBois)

DuBois’ classic still stands as one of the most influential books on racial issues written in the last 120 years. This book aims to help his readers, a mostly White audience, feel the pain, ambitions, and heartaches of African Americans. Sadly, even the title reflects the battle DuBois faced, as many Americans openly believed that Blacks were souless beasts. In 1900, Charles Carroll’s published Mystery Solved: The Negro a Beast. This best-seller swept through the nation, its ideas ultimately culminating in the film The Birth of a Nation (1925), which depicted the Negro as a lustful beast and the Clan as the nations’ noble heroes. This film was so popular that it was shown in the White House at President Wilson’s request, who exclaimed afterward, “my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Against this sentiment, DuBois believed the nation needed to understand the strivings of his people’s souls.

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