Our 27 Favorite Books of 2020

Reading, both widely and deeply, is a vital discipline for any leader. But reading is especially important for the Christian leader, because our way of leadership (following Jesus) isn’t just pragmatic. It’s a inherently theological pursuit that demands we reflect deeply on our relationships regularly.

We asked some of our team to give us a few favorite books from 2020, and we’ve got a fantastic list below, in no particular order. (Note: these aren’t necessarily books that were released this year, just books we happened to read this year.)

Enjoy this list of 27 (!!) of our favorite books of 2020. You can see a glimpse of them below in the picture gallery. Scroll down to see a brief description of each book.

Scandalous Witness, by Lee Camp

Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians, by Lee C. Camp

(Submitted by Matt Tebbe)

If you feel like the political Right and Left of US politics leave a lot to be desired, and neither one aligns with the kingdom of God, this book is for you. Short, prophetic, challenging, clear: Lee Camp writes a book that will challenge Christian Democrats and Republicans to rethink their politic shaped by the kingdom of God. .

Acts, by Willie James Jennings

Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, by Willie James Jennings

(Submitted by Gino Curcuruto)

One of the most breathtaking and beautiful pieces of writing I have read in a long time, and it was a commentary! Jennings centers the Holy Spirit as the main character in Acts who is constantly moving people to be with those they don’t want to be with. It’s in this joining that the Church gets to create spaces of belonging. Jennings is a master with words and this book has changed what commentaries can be and do. I read this devotionally and plan on doing it again in 2021.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, by John Mark Comer

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, by John Mark Comer

(Submitted by Mac McCarthy)

Hurry is the norm for most people in life.  Moreover, when we aren’t rushing from one thing to the next, technology often steals our attention away.  Comer masterfully articulates how hurry is the great enemy of the deeply formed spiritual life as it is incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit.  He provides concrete practices to simplify and attend deeply to Jesus.

St. Basil the Great on Social Justice

On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (Popular Patristics)

(Submitted by Ben Sternke)

This little collection of writings and homilies from St. Basil the Great on social justice is breathtaking in its simplicity and bracing in its prophetic urgency. His ideas remain fresh and contemporary, even though they were written over 1600 years ago. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny. His thesis in a nutshell: “For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.” May we heed his words in our day for the sake of justice.

The Color of Compromise, by Jemar Tisby

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby

(Submitted by Ben Hardman)

I loved this one so much that I had our entire church read it together.

I wept all the way through and it gave me some new eyes to see the history of the church’s tragic complicity in regards to racism in America.

Reading While Black, by Esau McCaulley

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, by Esau McCaulley

(Submitted by Matt Tebbe)

Esau McCaulley has written a wonderfully accessible, brilliantly argued theology of how our social location contributes to our interpretation of Scripture.

My only critique was that this book was too short: I could’ve read 1,000 pages of this. What a gift this book is to the Church. 

The Politics of Jesus, by Obery Hendricks, Jr.

The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, by Obery Hendricks, Jr.

(Submitted by Gino Curcuruto and Matt Tebbe)

Matt writes: “A book on the social and political setting of Jesus that helped me understand how Jesus ‘did theology’ as a marginalized person. I read a lot of books on ‘politics’ this year and this was one of the best (along with Lee Camp). Obery Hendricks Jr’s book has forever changed the way I’ll read the Gospels; I see so much more of the texture and setting than I ever did before.”

Gino writes: “This book gave me a new imagination for how to live in the revolutionary implications of the way of Jesus. Hendricks’ focus on how Jesus lived his theology from the margins has forever changed the way I will both inhabit my city and read the Gospels.”

The Dangers of Christian Practice, by Lauren Winner

The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin, by Lauren Winner

(Submitted by Seth Richardson)

A few years ago, there was much ado in some circles about how those young “nones” and “dones” were flocking to churches with more ancient, liturgical worship expressions. Winner’s book is a cautionary tale against the assumption that Christian practices (of any form) automatically make disciples, no matter how ancient.

In fact, as Winner recounts with refreshingly readable-yet-devastating prose, how dehumanizing damage has been extended in and through Christian practice. A must read for leaders in any tradition who need to reckon with how power works in relation to the church.

That All Shall Be Saved, by David Bentley Hart

That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, by David Bentley Hart

(Submitted by Ben Sternke)

This is likely to be a “controversial” pick, but I had to include it in my list of favorite books because it’s a stunning and genuinely new theological reexamination of a troubling and contentious tenet of (Western) Christian faith.

No matter what conclusions you end up drawing, Hart’s argument needs to be engaged, in my opinion. It was truly a fresh line of thinking I hadn’t ever heard before. I will also confess that I found his conclusions about salvation not just compelling, but beautiful.

The Leader’s Journey, by Herrington, Taylor, and Creech

The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, by Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor, and R. Robert Creech

(Submitted by Mac McCarthy)

This is an absolute must read for anyone wanting to lead change within the church. Of course, in order to be a change agent, you must first be a changed agent.

This book rightly calls pastors to attend to their own personal transformation, which provides the foundation to lead change from a place of self-differentiation. 

Renovated, by Jim Wilder

Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, and the Church That Transforms, by Jim Wilder

(Submitted by Ben Hardman)

I’m a huge Dallas Willard fan, so I read anything with Dallas’ content or info in it.

I also nerd out on the intersection of theology and brain science, so this was one of my favorites of the year.

Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

(Submitted by Matt Tebbe)

A history of how White Evangelicalism aligned itself with masculinity, violence, and the Republican party.

I couldn’t put this book down. Expertly researched and winsomely narrated, Kristin Kobes Du Mez has written my must read book of the year. For those who feel confused and disoriented in the 2020 version of Evangelicalism, this book will help you get your bearings historically and understand how we got to where we are today. 

Sanctifying Interpretation, by Chris E.W. Green

Sanctifying Interpretation: Vocation, Holiness, and Scripture, by Chris E.W. Green

(Submitted by Gino Curcuruto)

Green is a brilliant theologian who has a gift for helping us think about how we think about God. Read that again.

Green offers an alternative to the standard Evangelical models of scriptural hermeneutics and has (in this 2nd Edition) lots of additional material which help to clarify the method of interrelating vocation, holiness, and the interpretation of Scripture.

After Whiteness, by Willie James Jennings

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, by Willie James Jennings

(Submitted by Seth Richardson)

Jennings is arguably one of the most important theological thinkers of our generation. If you’ve read The Christian Imagination (if you haven’t, then go read it), After Whiteness is a follow-up work where Jennings continues to reveal how the theological architecture of Christian education (I think this applies both to the academy and the church) has been (de)formed by whitenessThis book feels more personal, more intimate, than Jennings’ other published work as he weaves in poetry and first-person accounts of his own experience as a professor in predominately white theological institutions. Like the title suggests, After Whiteness, provides penetrating diagnosis but also charts a way forward beyond distorted habits of thinking and living. 

The Rule of Benedict, by Joan Chittister

The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, by Joan Chittister

(Submitted by Ben Hardman)

I read about 15 books about rules of life this year, and Chittister’s book on Benedict’s rule was by far my favorite of the bunch.

It’s full of terrific interpretation and insight into spiritual disciplines and rule of life.

One Blood, by John Perkins

One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love, by John Perkins

(Submitted by Mac McCarthy)

John Perkins has given his life to racial peacemaking and fighting against racial injustice by living in the way of Jesus.

This is book is written to the church, calling the church into active engagement and out of complacency. 

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

(Submitted by Ben Sternke)

This is a stunning historical masterwork from Isabel Wilkerson. She tells the relatively untold story of the decades-long migration of black people who fled the South and settled in northern cities, looking for a better life.

Part of overcoming racism for white people is simply feeling a connection and empathy for what people of color have been through, and this helped me immensely in that regard. It’s difficult to talk about how astonishingly good this book is, because one runs out of superlatives and runs the risk of sounding like a “hype man,” but … this book is real good.

Lost Connections, by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope, by Johann Hari

(Submitted by Matt Tebbe)

This book is all about depression and anxiety, both of which increased for me during 2020. I loved this book because it helped me understand the environmental and relational factors that contributed to what I was experiencing.

Johann Hari makes research accessible through engaging storytelling and analysis. This was fun to read, and super informative.

The Beloved Community, by Charles Marsh

The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, by Charles Marsh

(Submitted by Gino Curcuruto)

In this compelling book, Marsh traces the how smaller communities tending to God’s presence (Beloved Communities) animated the civil rights movement and how they continue to activate people today.

A must read if you want to stir your thinking for how to be a faithful presence in our current time and place.

Letters to a Young Pastor, by Eric and Eugene Peterson

Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations between Father and Son, by Eric Peterson and Eugene Peterson

(Submitted by Ben Hardman)

I’m such a nerd that I just imagined Eugene Peterson was writing these letters to me.

There is such a depth of wisdom and discernment here of where the church is and where it could be.

Disunity in Christ, by Christena Cleveland

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, by Christena Cleveland

(Submitted by Mac McCarthy)

The degree of polarity and division within our culture is staggering and deeply concerning.

Cleveland does an amazing job explaining how these polarities develop while also providing concrete practices to build bridges and fight for common ground.

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier

(Submitted by Ben Sternke)

Whew! This one confirmed many of my intuitions about how ad-funded social media companies are destroying our ability to communicate with each other, find common ground, and maintain our dignity and compassion as human beings.

This isn’t alarmist reactionary drivel, either. These are really well researched conclusions, and we owe it to ourselves to understand how social media is bending our discourse to suit its purposes. I didn’t delete my accounts, but I interact significantly less now on social media platforms, and what I’ve found is that 1) I don’t miss it at all, 2) I’m more able to focus on my actual work, and 3) I just feel better.

Your Resonant Self, by Sarah Peyton

Your Resonant Self: Guided Meditations and Exercises to Engage Your Brain’s Capacity for Healing, by Sarah Peyton

(Submitted by Matt Tebbe)

I think of this as a companion book to Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections.

Sarah Peyton takes the latest brain science research and has crafted guided meditations to help heal the brain. I nerd out on this stuff, learned a lot about how prayer works biologically for us, and found this to be an invaluable resource for my own spiritual practices.

The Jewish Gospels, by Daniel Boyarin

The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, by Daniel Boyarin

(Submitted by Gino Curcuruto)

How Jewish is your Jesus, bro?

Boyarin, a Talmud scholar, makes a compelling case for how we may have missed some things about the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. In this well-argued book, Boyarin demonstrates how Christianity might be seen as a sect within Judaism rather than altogether separate and competing religion.

Future Church, by Will Mancini

Future Church: Seven Laws of Real Church Growth, by Will Mancini

(Submitted by Ben Hardman)

My friend Will Mancini has written a great book about discipleship and the future of the church post-COVID.

It is practical, helpful, and useful to every pastor as we navigate whats next for our faith communities.

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, by Belden Lane

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, by Belden Lane

(Submitted by Ben Sternke)

This book sat on a shelf in my house for three or four years before I dared to pick it up and read it on vacation this past summer.

Lane has researched and experienced contemplative prayer to an intimidating degree, but in this book offers insight and an invitation to anyone to explore the landscapes of apophatic spirituality.

As I read this book, I was drawn back into the bedrock of my own experience of God, and invited into deeper encounter.

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

(Submitted by Mac McCarthy)

The primary thesis in this masterpiece is that a caste system, comparable to India and Nazi Germany, is what drives racism in the United States.

This work is required reading for anyone wanting to understand the nuances of racism at a deeper level.

How about you? What are some of your favorite books of 2020? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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