Book Review / Culture

Missio Alliance’s Favorite Reads of 2020

While 2020 was difficult all around, one of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic was that people found themselves with more time to read. COVID-19 did not stop books from releasing, and members of the Missio Alliance community were glad to share their recommendations for the books in 2020 that they felt deserved notice for the value they provided to the church. Here are the ones that rose to the top of the attention of our contributors.

Lisa Watson

There were two books released in 2020 that I consider my favorites. Brown Church by Robert Chao Romero chronicles 500 years of colonization and its influence and impact in the Latina/o church. With a clearly-defined value for social justice and liberation theology, Brown Church invites readers to examine history, consider Latina/o theologies, and determine “Quien soy yo?” (“Who am I?”). It’s this critical convergence of history, theology, and identity that is the gift to readers who love Jesus, identify as Latina/o, and are activists. More than just information, this book is about a place for Latina/o Christians to belong.

The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas is a much-needed reminder that we can take the time to be formed rather than be frustrated by impossible quick fixes. Compelling and practical, this book holds great wisdom, relatable stories, humor, and effective ways to be deeply formed by God. I appreciate the prophetic witness and pastoral posture of Villodas’s writing. Here’s one of many favorite quotes from the book:

The way of worldly power, values, and priorities can easily take precedence in our lives, with Christianity being either complicit in the perpetuation of the world system or irrelevant in the social landscape. We are called to have our lives shaped by a different kind of power, pace, and priorities, offered to us by God.

—Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life

Dennis Edwards: Marlena Graves’s The Way Up is Down is a prophetic, pastoral, and practical discussion of spiritual life. I especially appreciate Graves’s ability to weave together philosophical and theological ideas to push readers toward their own personal transformation which can lead to community transformation.

Drew Hart’s Who Will Be a Witness? is a robust, theological. and historical guide for Christian activism. Hart centers on Jesus Christ, applying the Lord’s witness to contemporary issues of injustice. I especially appreciated his take on Barabbas as well as his chapter on economic justice.

Perspectives on Paul by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza is a series of essays comparing different approaches to Paul, followed by my own pastoral afterword. The essays are written by top-notch scholars but are accessible for all interested Christians. Rather than remaining locked into certain assumptions about Paul, we would all do well to consider some contemporary views of Pauline theology and then expand or adjust our current perspectives.

Derek Vreeland: I found and read Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics by Eugene Cho in the spring of 2020 ahead of the fervor of the late summer and fall election season. This easy-to-read book leads the reader through the essentials in remaining Christ-like while engaging in a political world that very often looks very unlike Christ. Politics matter, because people matter to God and therefore they matter to us. This book discusses the important topics of political engagement including social media interactions, voting, and advocating for matters of justice. A key takeaway for me was the importance of centering our political imagination in the kingdom of God and allowing our political opinions to be shaped by the values of God’s kingdom inaugurated in Jesus. l will find this book useful again in 2024 when another hostile and divided election season comes our way.

Church leaders from different traditions will find meaningful content in Worship and the World to Come: Exploring Christian Hope in Contemporary Worship by Glenn Packiam. Packiam has poured years of theological, sociological, and field research into this single volume. I found his detailed definition of Christian hope helpful in terms of action, grounds, agency, object, time, space, and pathway. His comparisons between N.T. Wright’s and Jurgen Moltmann’s eschatological visions are significant. Perhaps the most important contribution here is the field research done in the area of hope and worship among both Pentecostal/charismatics, Presbyterians, and other evangelicals. A key takeaway for me is the role of the Holy Spirit as the bridge between the lack of new creation eschatology in contemporary worship songs and the experience of hope among worshipers.

Chris Morton

There’s a difference between having something explained to you and having a chance to see the world through other people’s eyes. In response to the devastating death of George Floyd and others, many have created resources for “explaining race to the white American church.” Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black is different. McCaulley believes that the Black church has “something to say,” a tradition of interpretation that is often gotten absorbed into the theological arguments of white churches. This book offers an introduction to Black ecclesial interpretation and examines what Scripture has to say about the Black American experience, including the topics of policing, slavery, and identity. As a white man who inhabits mostly white churches, I was amazed to read a book that was not written for me, but nevertheless offered a profound introduction to both Scripture and to the thinking of my Black brothers and sisters.

Mandy Smith

While the title seems to limit this book’s audience to women of a certain age, Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause: An Unexpected Spiritual Journey by seminary professor Cheryl Bridges Johns is important for all church leaders. Though the title highlights menopause, the book actually describes the stages of women’s spiritual development, providing a wonderful counterpart to Richard Rohr’s work on men’s spirituality. Too often studies of human development take research done on men and lay it over women’s experience. So if we’re not careful, we apply patterns of healthy development for men to women’s development. Whereas Christian maturity might look for men like learning to constrain anger, to listen, and to defer, for women it might mean learning to attend to anger, to speak, and to expand. As such, this book is an important resource for anyone ministering to or alongside women and also a desperately needed companion for women in leadership.

Justin Heap

Everywhere You Look: Discovering The Church Right Where You Are by Tim Soerens is an astonishingly good book seemingly made for this exact moment in church history as the people of God must navigate a global pandemic, broad injustices, and complex conversations while recovering what it means to be unified in our efforts of becoming a collaborative force for good in our neighborhoods. This book unashamedly builds on Soerens’s previous work with Dwight Friesen and Paul Sparks (The New Parish) while offering a remarkably simple framework for cultivating a viable presence and inviting others into this exciting, sustainable movement.

Helen Lee

Given my day job with InterVarsity Press, it’s impossible for me to recommend books in an unbiased way. But I can unabashedly highlight the work that Missio writers and leaders did in launching their own books this past year, made much more difficult by the pandemic. Despite these challenges, seven members of our Writing Team and Leading Voices published books in 2020:

And keep your eyes open for new books by Tara Beth Leach (Radiant Church, Feb. 2021), Mandy Smith (Unfettered, May 2021), and Christine Yi Suh (Forty Days on Being a Four, May 2021), all coming out later this year.

We hope you will discover these titles as they release, and we’ll continue to highlight resources that are particularly helpful for church leaders as this new year rolls onward.

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