I do most of my “reading” by audiobook, while driving to and from work. I read 59 books this past year. Some biography, some history, some theology, and a lot of Christian religious and social history. Here’s the list; perhaps you’ll grab some of these and find them helpful. See also my lists from 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.
My Top 10 Books of 2022
A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left by David Kirkpatrick. An extraordinary book that opened my eyes to the Latin American wing of evangelicalism and introduced me to Rene Padilla (et al), the Lausanne Covennant, and the concept of integral mission.
The Journey of Modern Theology by Roger Olson. Olson’s magnum opus, a historical survey of modern theology. I was introduced to more thinkers in this book than I ever have from one volume. Accurate, engaging. It expands your horizons and makes you realize how small a world your particular theological tribe inhabits. Very, very helpful.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez. I also read this in 2021, but decided to review it once more. This is an astounding book. It gave me the framework for understanding white evangelicalism as a sociological category, rather than simply a set of shared theological commitments. Very well-written, and engaging. This is a landmark book that came along at the right time.
Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law by James B. Stewart. An outstanding piece of journalism about the entire Trump + FBI investigation debacle. Very informative. Stewart gave a one-hour talk about this book which I found fascinating.
White Evangelicals and Right-Wing Populism by Marcia Pally. An astonishing work, short, but packing a large punch. Its value is Pally’s discussion of populism and its triggers applied to Trump and the current evangelical scene. Pally gave one of the best interviews I’ve ever heard here if you wish to get a preview of the book.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. An earth-shattering classic. This work is generally credited with launching second-wave feminism in the United States. It examines “the problem that has no name;” the mid-century, middle-class, white housewife’s sense of loneliness, despair, and purposelessness because she was socialized to not expect or want an identity of her own–everything was subsumed into her husband and family. I see some flavors of complementarian Christianity basically want to enshrine this imaginary utopia as the Christian ideal. I say no. A truly remarkable book.
Mission Between the Times by Rene Padilla. Everything about this little collection of essays is so great. It’s like a breath of fresh air because it doesn’t come from the white, conservative evangelical world. Every pastor or thinking Christian would benefit greatly from reading this volume. Padilla focuses on our “mission between the times” of Jesus’ advents, with critiques of the Western evangelical framework and the incessant wedge it wishes to drive between social responsibility and the Gospel. He comes from Latin American evangelicalism and a completely different context, so his insights are quite refreshing. Padilla did his PhD under F.F. Bruce.
Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism by Molly Worthen. This is a book for the ages. A survey of evangelical intellectual life in the 20th century. Worthen sees evangelicalism as being shaped by a “crisis of authority,” as they tried to balance competing and contradictory emphases and forge an identity.
While they differ from one another on the details of their ideas about God and humankind, three elemental concerns unite them: how to repair the fracture between spiritual and rational knowledge; how to assure salvation and a true relationship with God; and how to resolve the tension between the demands of personal belief and the constraints of a secularized public square. These are problems of intellectual and spiritual authority. None, on its own, is unique to evangelicals. But in combination, under the pressures of Western history, and in the absence of a magisterial arbiter capable of settling uncertainties and disagreements, these concerns have shaped a distinctive spiritual community.
Worthen, Molly. Apostles of Reason (p. 4).
How to be Evangelical Without Being Conservative by Roger Olson. Everything about this little book is refreshing, correct, wholesome, and good. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. For people like me, who are somewhat disillusioned with the tradition they inherited, Olson’s project here is a breath of delightfully fresh air.
The Fifties by David Halberstam. Delightful, majestic, very impressive book. I don’t know how Halberstam did it. It’s a series of chapters of various popular figures, events, and cultural touchpoints of the 1950s. He argues that the chaos of the 1960s didn’t come from nowhere–the foundations were all laid in the 1950s, which are typically remembered in sepia as Mayberry. Without a doubt this was the most enjoyable book I read this year.
The Rest of Them from 2022
Axioms of Religion by Edgar Y. Mullins. An older book (ca. 1908) by the former President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It presents the Baptist view of Christianity in a comprehensive, winsome way that will benefit any reader. Mullins frames Christianity as a series of axioms which the Baptist ethos best supports. Likely the best apologetic for Baptist polity that I’ve yet read. It’s a shame it’s not well known, today.
The Christian View of Science and Scripture by Bernard Ramm. This was paradigm-shattering for me. Though this work is well-nigh 70 years old, it still captures the basic issues and does it very well. Ramm came out for progressive creationism in an intelligent, winsome way. If you come from a tradition which believes Ken Ham is the 13th apostle, that the Ark Encounter is a good thing, and that the Institute for Creation Research is the only faithful place where science can be done from a faithful Christian perspective, then Ramm will either enlighten you or make you really mad. His burden was to issue a call for charity and clear thinking on science and Scripture. Did he succeed? Read it and see.
Creation Revealed in Six Days by P.J. Wiseman. An interesting little book, largely forgotten to history, which I saw referenced in Ramm’s work (above). The author argues that Genesis 1-2 does not tell us how God created everything. Rather, they record that God took six days to reveal the fact of the creation. This is an attempt to reconcile science and Scripture in the late 1940s. I do not think Wiseman was a crank, and the book is well-reasoned and interesting. You can download a PDF for free at the link.
The Doctrine of the Trinity by Leonard Hodgson. A very good monograph from an Anglican theologian, adapted from a lecture series, which proposes a social theory of the Trinity. Very helpful, well-reasoned. I laughed out loud when Hodgson accurately surveyed the doctrine of eternal generation, then frankly admitted that he had no idea what people meant when they spoke about it. I sympathize and agree!
The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith. This is a provocative book which challenges the way certain conservative Christians read and use the Bible. I agree with much (not all) of this book, and many of Smith’s criticisms are quite accurate. This book is a very helpful prompt for serious introspection.
The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell. A silly little screed from the late 1970s. This is fundamentalism at its worst. Lindsell wrote like a wounded lover lashing out at the woman who wronged him.
The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Become What God Intended by Sheila W. Gregoire. An outstanding book which details the weirdness and stupidity of much of what conservative Christianity teaches about marriage roles. So, the authors spend much of their time analyzing the best-selling “marriage books” on the Christian market. I suppose it’s because I didn’t grow up as a Christian, but I’ve always found much of conservative Christianity’s rules about dating and marriage roles as absurd, purely cultural, and frankly stupid. The “Billy Graham rule”? Really dumb and unworkable in the modern office environment. This is a wonderful book. If I had to recommend a book for soon-to-be-married couples, I’d buy this one for them so they’d have insight into false narratives around marriage, love, and sex. For pre-marital counseling, I always use Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.
Desperate: An Epic Battle for Clean Water and Justice in Appalacia by Kris Maher. Very entertaining and horrifying piece of journalism.
Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus by Jim Wallis. I read this book, but remember almost nothing about it. I thought it was vague and basically “meh.”
Fundamentalism and American Culture (3rd edition) by George Marsden. A classic for a reason. You must read it. His latest updates encompass the Trump years. Here is a good interview with Marsden about this latest edition, which I enjoyed listening to.
10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney. Breezy. Short. Good. I read it, then gave away several copies to the congregation.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller. This is a very good book to give someone who has questions about the Christian faith. Keller is a great writer, and communicates very well. We read this book at church in conjunction with the group study materials.
Towards a Recovery of Christian Belief by Carl F.H. Henry. Excellent precis of Henry’s theological program. If his seven-volume God, Revelation, and Authority is intimidating to you, then this slim little volume will give you the basics of Henry’s thought. Incidentally, Roger Olson’s discussion of Henry in his Journey of Modern Theology (above) is quite good.
A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (2nd expanded edition) by Hugh Ross. A winsome, very helpful book by perhaps the most well-known Christian apologist who is not a young-earth creationist. I was particularly moved by Ross’ insistence that the universe must be 14 billion (ish) years old because of the time it takes light to travel. This is very persuasive to me. I know very little about science so I am a great disadvantage when it comes to weighing these matters. Ross makes a good case and I appreciated this book.
Gospel & Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Daniel Fuller. This is an older classic. It made a great impression upon me when I read it, early in 2022. I’m at a loss now to remember much about it. I need to read it again, but I suspect I mentally ditched it when I discovered the delights of progressive covenantalism.
Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart. A fascinating look at the securities scandals of the late 1980s. This was a joy to read.
On Religion by Friedrich Schleiermacher. This is an apologetic work directed to a particular intellectual elite, at a particular time. Some of it was interesting. Much of it was forgettable. I need to read it again.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama. A beautiful memoir by an important President.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is a classic for a reason. I usually don’t include fiction books in this annual list, but I made an exception for this one. A moving book.
Principles of Expository Preaching by Merrill Unger. Meh. It’s an older book. It’s very didactic, written with no warmth, and pretty stale. It’s not bad. It’s just very basic.
Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. Another novel–an infamous satire of fundamentalism, written in 1927. It’s a very sad book, because Gantry is a terrible man. Lewis apparently saw religion as a con-game–or, perhaps better, he saw fundamentalism as a con-game. What’s astonishing is that Lewis clearly understood the fundamentalism he was criticizing. The dialogue and theological reasoning he inputs to his characters is astonishingly accurate. To truly appreciate this book, you need to understand the context of the aftermath of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the United States.
American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism by Matthew A. Sutton. A great work of history. Sutton presents the modern evangelical world as a result of an incessant apocalyptic mindset.
Grammar of Prophecy by R.B. Girdlestone. Probably the best book on prophecy I’ve ever read. I haven’t read everything on prophecy (there’s a whole lot of junk), but I’ve read a lot–and this is the best of the lot. An older book, from the late 19th century.
The Interpretation of Prophecy by Patrick Fairbairn. A longer work, just as good as Gilderstone. Great stuff. I suggest people ditch dispensational sensationalists and just read Gilderstone and Fairbairn!
Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry. An old classic. A bit long, but a great resource full of keen insight.
Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Apocalyptic by D. Brent Sandy. A helpful corrective to dispensationalist interpretive excesses. Lots of common sense, here.
The Hidden Motives of Pastoral Action by Luis Segundo. I remember this book was good. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything else about it. This is a call to action from a Latin American liberation theologian.
Truth as Encounter by Emil Brunner. A beautiful little book outlining Brunner’s conception of faith as “truth + encounter.” If you’ve read Brunner’s Dogmatics (3 vols.) then this isn’t new. But, it’s helpful to have this in one small volume. Brunner was a real treasure to the church. He is my favorite theologian.
Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945 by David Kennedy. Great history. I loved this book.
Interpreting the Parables (2nd edition) by Craig Blomberg. Read for a class. Good book.
Stories With Intent (2nd edition) by Klyne Snodgrass. Read for a class. Too much material here. It can’t be read as a book. It’s basically an encyclopedia. Much of the info is useless for a pastor. It could be one-third the length.
Anatomy of a Revived Church by Thom Rainer. Rainer excels at very short, very quick books. This one is quite helpful. Every pastor of a small church will appreciate it.
FDR by Jean E. Smith. An epic biography that I enjoyed a lot. I have a newfound appreciation for Roosevelt and what he accomplished.
A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan by Michael Kazin. A good biography of an important man. Kazin is laboring under a handicap here, because he notes that the majority of Bryan’s private correspondence was destroyed. The result is that we don’t really get to understand Bryan very much. I don’t think this is Kazim’s fault. The impression I left it with is that Bryan was a bit of a dreamer, unrealistic, and not somebody I’d take very seriously were he alive today. I feel bad for having that opinion, but that’s where I’m at. For me, the most valuable aspect of this book is that Bryan is a shining example of the kind of populist American Christianity that used to exist–one that believed the Bible, was generally conservative, yet upheld social reform as a Christian imperative. What a concept!
Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Again the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre. A beautiful piece of investigative journalism. I thought it was much better than Beth Macy’s Dopesick (see below), which has received far more press.
Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power by Lisa Weaver Swartz. An excellent comparative survey of how two conservative seminaries (one egalitarian the other complementarian) teach gendered roles to their students and their wider ecclesiastical orbits.
Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education by Adam Latts. A delightful and enlightening look at how conservative Christian institutions have tried to “keep the faith” in the American higher education world in the 20th century. Very good book.
The Bible Told Them So: How Southern Evangelicals Fought to Preserve White Supremacy by J. Russell Hawkins. A good book. It gets a bit repetitive, but that’s probably because I’ve read enough along this same line that the stories begin to blur and I lose patience. If you want a great entry point to understand how sociology and culture can create systemic, structural sin, then this is a book to read.
Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism by Timothy Gloege. A delightful book that uses Moody Bible Institute as a prism to frame evangelicalism as a business venture that markets a deliberately generic product with sectarian emphases rounded off (i.e. conservative Christianity) to its constituents. It also acts as a good historical survey of Moody. Highly recommended.
Christianity and the State by Rousas Rushdoony. This is an important book because it reveals at least three key truths; (1) it helps you understand the Christian Nationalist ethos so popular nowadays–much of it is a populist and bastardized flavor of Reconstructionism, (2) it reveals that presuppositionalism as a prism for truth can take you to places where you ought not go, and (3) it proves Rushdoony was quite possibly insane.
Dopesick by Beth Macy. Repetitive. I’d already read A Death in Mud Lick, so perhaps I wasn’t in the mood to cover the same ground again. Still, I feel that book was much better.
The Case for a New Reformation Theology by William Hordern. A generally excellent little book. This was part of a trio of books which Westminster Press put out in the mid-1950s surveying (1) evangelicalism (penned by Edward Carnell as The Case for Orthodox Theology), neo-orthodoxy (this volume), and liberalism (L. Harold DeWolf). Most evangelicals from my orbit know nothing about neo-orthodoxy except that “it’s bad.” What little most people know is that neo-orthodoxy is soft on the doctrine of Scripture. I’ve read Barth on this, and Brunner, and Bloesch, and now Hordern. I don’t believe this charge is quite right. This is a good book.
Two Views on Women in Ministry, rev. ed., by James R. Beck. This is an excellent “two views” book about the ever-present flashpoint of women in ministry. Linda Belleville’s contribution (egalitarian) was particularly instructive for me.
The Last Things: An Eschatology for Laymen by George Ladd. The best little volume on eschatology yet written, that I’ve seen. Historic premillennialist in perspective.
Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course Between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theologies ed. Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker. A series of essays fleshing out certain key aspects of a theological system called progressive covenantalism. This is a framework that relies heavily on typology, which Bernard Ramm recommended as an interpretive grid long ago in his Protestant Biblical Interpretation. I believe this approach holds great promise, and I liked these essays.
The Great Reversal: Reconciling Evangelism and Social Concern by David O. Moberg. This classic text is a short, accessible, breezy primer for bible-believing Christians who need a guide to help them think rightly about evangelism and social concern. There was a time when Christians were at the forefront of social betterment, driven by Gospel impulses. Now, after the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, these same impulses are derided in some quarters as “social gospel,” or (more lately) as “woke.” Too often, those who toss these epithets have not read Rauschenbusch themselves, do not understand their own history, and are captive to a very particular flavor of Christian expression that has baptized its outward face in a politicio-conservative philosophy. A few of the chapters here are a bit dated, but this does not detract from the book’s value.
Models of the Kingdom by Howard Snyder. A very helpful little book that provides a taxonomy to chart the different conceptions of “the kingdom of God” that you find in the Christian family throughout the centuries. It will probably help you clarify your own thinking on this subject.
Washington’s Crossing by David H. Fischer. A definitive account of the most crucial period of the American Revolution. I’ve read this book three times now–usually once every few years.
America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation by Thomas Kidd. This seems to be an undergrad-level survey of religion in America. There’s nothing new here, but Kidd does a wonderful job sketching the landscape. If you’re not familiar with this story (like too many reporters at major news outlets are), then this is a worthy book to get.