My Top Ten Books of 2021

Continuing my annual tradition, here’s my 2021 book list. These are the top 10 books I read this year with recommendations, reviews, and even a video interview with one of the authors.

1. Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley

Reading While Black was the first book I read in 2021 and it was the best. Dr. McCaulley expertly introduces the uninitiated to the ecclesial Black tradition of biblical interpretation and distinguishes it from other traditions. In so doing, he masterfully demonstrates the prophetic relevance of the scriptures for activism and social justice. This is a must read!

Check out my extended video review!

2. What is God’s Kingdom and What Does Citizenship Look Like? by César García

While What is God’s Kingdom may have been the shortest book I read this year, it’s among the best. From now on it’ll be my go-to book on the subject. Even though it’s concise, it doesn’t fail to be impactful. García brilliantly communicates an Anabaptist ethic that avoids the common pitfalls of White Neo-Anabaptists. Namely, he doesn’t allow the distinction of the church to lead to separatism and political quietism. Instead, he explicates a missional ecclesiology that engages the polis for the common good. This too is a must read!

Check out my review over at Missio Alliance!

3. How to Have an Enemy by Melissa Florer-Bixler

As a Mennonite pastor, Florer-Bixler has no doubt had to contend with all the typical stereotypes about “peacemaking.” In this book, she explodes all the most toxic caricatures. How to Have an Enemy argues that enmity is distinct from difference and while difference can be tolerated, even celebrated, enmity is based on unjust power differentials. To love our enemies, we fight to dismantle the unjust systems that produce enmity. If you’re someone who thinks that dialogue is a silver bullet to cure every problem facing the church, you will hate this book. But if you’ve read the Gospels and fallen in love with the radical prophet who sparks a movement that turns the world upside down, you will love this book. It’s the most thought-provoking book I read all year, and it’s a must read!

4. Subversive Witness by Dominique Gilliard

Dominique has done it again. His sophomore offering is as good or better than his first release. This time he’s tackling another thorny subject. Not the prison industrial complex or penal substitutionary atonement; this time it’s Privilege. Many have no doubt asked Dominique, “So what do I do with my privilege?” This book is the answer. And not only does he answer this question using all his experience as a pastor and expertise as an antiracist trainer, Dominique also expertly mines the scriptures for their wisdom and provides an interpretive lens that illuminates the role privilege plays. This is an excellent resource that I highly recommend!

Check out my review!

5. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

At 496 pages, Caste was definitely the longest book I read this year, but it was well worth it. Isabel Wilkerson, well known for her other bestselling book, The Warmth of Other Suns, offers a new and expertly-researched theory: America has a caste system. I’ll admit, at first, I didn’t get it. I was confused as to what value this theory adds to the pantheon of antiracist work already in circulation. But, by the end, I was sold. Caste provides a necessary lens through which to see the United States’ relationship to race, class, and gender. This is an eye-opening book and I highly recommend it.

6. Struggling with Evangelicalism by Dan Stringer

Since 2016, Evangelicalism has been desperately embattled. Many question whether it’s even redeemable. Dan Stringer doesn’t answer the question of whether any particular person should remain an evangelical. That’s for you to decide. Instead, he brings new insights to bear. One example is not approaching “evangelicalism” as a Brand one can identify with or not (like Pepsi or Apple), but instead as a cultural Space we inhabit. Many who are now disavowing the brand nevertheless continue to occupy the space. So rather than helping people to discern whether to call oneself an evangelical, Dan helps readers understand what evangelicalism is, what its done wrong, but also its strengths. He doesn’t attempt to persuade anyone to “stay”; he simply offers this guide to people who are struggling. It’s a great book that, for some, is very needed!

Check out my video interview with Dan!

7. Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Sorens and Jenny Yang

Welcoming the Stranger is the most in-depth book I’ve ever read on immigration and I’m so glad I did. While it’s very well researched, it doesn’t get bogged down. Instead, the authors keep the reader’s attention with vivid stories of real people’s lives. It’s also blunt about the partisan political realities. Everyone who reads this book will be better informed. This is an excellent resource that everyone needs on their shelf.

8. Why is There Suffering? by Bethany Sollereder

Why is There Suffering? is the most creative book I read this year. This isn’t your typical “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. No, this book guides readers through theological, philosophical, and ethical choices in order to assist readers at arriving at their own conclusions about the so-called “problem of evil.” This format is nothing short of brilliant! I wish I’d had this book when I was a teenager. I wouldn’t have had to read the dozens of other books I read in this subject. I highly recommend this unique book!

9. Taking America Back for God by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry

Taking America Back for God explodes the media narrative that “evangelicals” or even “white evangelicals” got Donald Trump elected. It’s not that simple, says the data. Instead, what Whitehead and Perry demonstrate is that Christian Nationalism got Donald Trump elected. In fact, the data also shows that the more religious a person is, the less likely they were to support Trump. This book is mind-blowing. I’m so glad I read this book, because it helps me understand people who were a complete mystery to me. I highly recommend this book!

10. Who Will Be a Witness? by Drew Hart

The last book I read this year is one of my favorites, from one of my favorite authors. Drew Hart doesn’t just write a book that delves deeply into the theological and political realities of following Jesus—but he does that too! He’s also written a book that mobilizes the church to be part of what God is already up to in the world. Too often books about what the church can do for justice don’t acknowledge that the Spirit is out ahead of the church, drawing us further and further into God’s Kingdom. Drew’s book not only acknowledges this—he illuminates this truth in accessible and persuasive ways. Readers will love and remember Drew’s vivid analogies. Leaders will love that the book has a free study guide. Churches will love the practical guidance. This is a must-read for churches seeking the shalom of their cities.