My Top 10 Books of 2011

by Rick Love

Here are the top ten books I’ve read in 2011. It was painful whittling the list down to only ten books, but hopefully this will give you some books to read as part of your New Year’s resolution if you haven’t read them yet. 

To say these are the top ten books of 2011 does not mean I agree with everything written. Sometimes the best books say things outside the box (hyperbolic and even heretical) and force you to think deeply about a subject. So as you read, follow Paul’s teaching: “examine all things and hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

  1. Speaking of Jesus: the Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis
  2. Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd
  3. The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus by Bruxy Cavey
  4. The Powers That Be: Theology For A New Millennium by Walter Wink
  5. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright 
  6. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than our Lips by John Dickson 
  7. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller 
  8. Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf 
  9. Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job with God’s Global Work by Bob Roberts Jr.
  10. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty by Mustafa Akyol

Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis. Carl’s thesis is simple but liberating: We need to stop playing the “our religion can beat up your religion" game (p. 103) and focus on calling people to Jesus. “If you don’t feel like you have to evangelize someone away from their team and onto yours, you can speak of Jesus much more freely and thus, more effectively” (p. 103). “Evangelism, as a method, is dangerous because it’s something we “do” to other people. Nobody likes to be “done” (p. 125). All we need to do is speak of Jesus. Carl’s book will help you become Christ-centered rather than Christianity-centered. He will equip you to be winsome and welcoming, rather than defensive and adversarial. He will persuade you to follow Jesus.

Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd. With passion and prophetic insight, Brian shows the radical nature of forgiveness. He helps us understand the nature of the gospel and the role of forgiveness in peacemaking. He reminds us that, “forgiveness occupies center stage at all the most important places in the Christian faith: the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, Good Friday, Easter Sunday” (p 92). He calls us to a “gospel that is not to be confined to the stained-glass world of sentimental piety, but a gospel intended for the healing of the nations… only forgiveness can create the world of peace of which the prophets dared to dream” (p. 91).

The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus by Bruxy Cavey. This is a mind-stretching, heart-warming, radically Jesus-centered book. Bruxy argues that the opening chapters of the Bible describe a religionless world as God’s original design. The same is true about the closing chapters of the Bible. And at the center of the biblical drama we find Jesus, the one who came to abolish religion. “The Jesus described in the Bible is scandalous. He is not portrayed as the founder of a world religion, but the challenger of all religions. He is a subversive, anti-institutional revolutionary” (p. 23).

The Powers That Be: Theology For A New Millennium by Walter Wink. I disagree with Wink’s demonology, but I love his political theology! He brilliantly exposes the myth of redemptive violence: “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right…this Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today” (p. 42). Wink argues that “nonviolence is at the very heart of the gospel, and that the church’s task is to attempt to spread this leaven into the life of the world” (p. 135). To do so the church must follow the third way of Jesus: Instead of passivity or violence, Jesus taught a non-violent resistance. This book will rock your world.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright. This prominent New Testament scholar cogently demonstrates the close relationship between the physical nature of our future hope (bodily resurrection, the new heavens and the new earth) and the church’s present mission (to colonize earth with the life of heaven). In short, “as long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality … then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence (p. 197). “What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism, …That is the way to both the genuine mission of God and to the shaping of the church by and for that mission” (p. 270).

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than our Lips by John Dickson. John is a biblical scholar and an evangelist. A rare breed! Because of this, his book combines rigorous scholarship and practical illustrations. John makes a distinction throughout the book between the specific activity of “proclaiming the gospel” and the broader category of “promoting the gospel” (p. 23), both of which reflect true witness to Christ. He vigorously refutes the common evangelical tendency to see good deeds as a missionary tactic or gospel ploy. This is one of the best articulations of a holistic gospel I have ever read.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller. Both Keller and I are graduates of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and we both had Harvie Conn has our mentor, so I like the way he thinks (I had to get that in there). Keller provides many profound insights into justice, and outlines many practical strategies to ministry to the poor. He also argues convincingly for a ministry that integrates word and deed: It is “impossible to separate word and deed ministry from each other in ministry because human beings are integrated wholes—body and soul. When some Christians say, ‘Caring for physical needs will detract from evangelism,’ they must be thinking only of doing evangelism among people who are comfortable and well-off” (p. 142). In addition, he affirms the importance of addressing both individual sin and structural sin. “The three cause of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure. Having surveyed the Bible on these texts numerous times, I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors” (p. 38). Keller shows us how to be fully evangelical and passionate about social justice.

Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf. Miroslav Volf is a world class theologian and peacemaker. This particular book grows out of his personal experience with Muslim leaders and has led him to reflect deeply on this issue. The result: a world class book on both theology and peacemaking. Miroslav argues convincingly that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, while at the same time acknowledging important differences. He points out that Martin Luther, the great reformer, believed that both Muslims and Christians worshipped the same God. As Luther says in the Large Catechism, “All who are outside this Christian people, whether heathens, Turks, Jews or false Christians and hypocrites – even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God – nevertheless they do not know what his attitude is toward them” (p. 62). This book is important because of the controversy surrounding this notion that God and Allah are the same. Before you say that you don’t agree with Volf, you need to read his arguments. You may be surprised at the defensive and negative attitudes that rise up in some of you as you read this. And that may be why you need to read this book: not to agree with Volf, but to get your heart right.

Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job with God’s Global Work by Bob Roberts Jr. Here is another great book by this creative, cutting-edge, out-of-box-thinker. Bob takes a fresh look at the great commission and the role of laity living out their faith in a glocalized world. His chapter on the importance of freedom of religion (“Making Space for Everyone”—Chapter 9) is profound and worth the price of the book. Bob uses examples of Christian-Muslim interaction throughout his book and describes many of the values that drive Peace Catalyst International. 

Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty by Mustafa Akyol. Michael Ly met Mustafa in Turkey and then hosted him in Seattle recently. So Mustafa is a friend of Peace Catalyst International. Mustafa is a journalist and writes as a devout Muslim. His survey of the history of Islam highlights the good, the bad and the ugly. His book includes a critique of the Hanbali school of Islam – the most radical and literalistic of the four Sunni schools. Much of the book describes the controversy between the people of reason vs the people of tradition. The people of tradition put too great an emphasis on the hadith as a source for Islamic theology. By contrast, the people of reason built their theology primarily on the Qur’an, along with a critical appropriation of the hadith. Mustafa forcefully challenges the traditional interpretation of the law of apostasy (those who convert from Islam must be killed) and makes a strong Islamic case for human rights. This is a must read!