Summer is finally here, and it is one that is going to look very different for many of us. With COVID-19 concerns and restrictions still a very present reality for us, how we each figure out our work situation, caring for kids when daycares are closed, and trying to balance our summer fun is going to be a real challenge.
If that weren’t enough for us to try and manage, we also have to come to terms with all of the unique challenges in our society right now. While God’s people are to be those who are united by the love of Christ (John 13:35, 17:23), there are numerous pressures which could cause us to become divided. Differing views on handling COVID-19, racial reconciliation, and politics during a heated election year are all issues our flesh, the world, and the devil would use to divide us.
In light of these unique challenges, I thought it appropriate to recommend some books for us that would help us to grow in loving each other well. Colossians 3:14 exhorts to “Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Maybe with a few good books in hand, we can each be proactive in training our hearts on how to better love each other during these tumultuous times.
I have included 10 books in this list which deal with various Christian topics. They are intended to help us grow in empathy for others who may be different from us, either in gender, life stage, political view, occupation, or life experiences. In addition, I have included 6 recommended resources on racism and racial reconciliation in the church. If this is an issue you are looking to better understand and grow in empathy toward, these books would be a great starting point. While anyone could benefit from these books, I have the church members in mind who I have the privilege of pastoring at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church.
I do have your summer vacations in mind with these books! I’ve tried to choose books that won’t take you too terribly long to read, that are engaging and well-written, and will leave a lasting impact on you. So, whether you’re having a staycation or heading to the beach, take one or two of these books along.
- Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortland
This book has quickly become one of the most recommended books I’ve seen in recent years. The purpose of this book is to center our hearts on who Jesus is. Scripture says that Jesus is “gentle and lowly in heart” – but what does this mean? How does that describe the relationship he has with sinners and sufferers?
If we want to grow in empathy and love, then what better way to start than by meditating on Christ’s love for us. If you’re looking to be refreshed and renewed by who Jesus is, pick up this book.
Scott Sauls is a PCA pastor in Nashville. He is one of my favorite authors. His writing is a wonderful combination of pastoral care, accessible writing, and a genuine love for people. This newest book is written to help us communicate and respond to others in a gentle way, rather than with a defensive or divided posture.
Sounds timely, right? I know I really need this book. If you’re looking for guidance on how to better communicate with friends, family, and yes – even church members – this would be a great book to pick up.
- Born Again This Way by Rachel Gilson
Our staff team is reading through this book this summer. Rachel Gilson is a very gifted writer. She is writing from the perspective of a young woman who was educated at Yale and entered college in a committed lesbian relationship. During her time at Yale, she came to faith in Christ. However, she readily confesses that her same-sex attraction did not – and has not – gone away. Nevertheless, she found the Christian sexual ethic beautiful, and is now married to a man with children.
Her perspective is one that we really need to hear in the conversation regarding how we can best minister to and care for our brothers and sisters who might likewise struggle with same-sex attraction.
- Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher
I really loved this book. Many of you likely already know Elyse Fitzpatrick, who has written several books. The purpose of this book is not only to show us how the Bible celebrates the value of women, but it also suggests practical ways for us to honor and respect women today. Women will be deeply encouraged and moved by this book. Men will better learn how to honor and respect the women in their lives.
- Uncommon Ground edited by Timothy Keller and John Inazu
This book has contributions from several authors, all of whom come from different perspectives and occupations but who also share a desire to influence the culture with Christ’s kingdom. Each author brings something unique to the table, but they are all trying to answer the same question: “How can Christians interact with those around them in ways that show respect to those whose beliefs are radically different while remaining faithful to the gospel?” If you’re looking for encouragement and inspiration of how to engage with others in your own vocation and workplace, you might really benefit from this book.
- How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics? by Jonathan Leeman and Andy Naselli
Coming in at only 58 small pages, this short book is a quick and accessible guide for Christians to love one another well across political divides. What I really appreciated about this book was how it really gets at underlying views and perspectives. I think there is great advice here for every Christian. Given how short and packed with wisdom it is, I think each of us could make time for this one this summer.
- When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat
I need to read this book a second time. And probably a third. As someone who has suffered spiritual abuse in a church context, this book was very healing for me. It helped me put a name and identity on my abuse, seeing it for what it was. If you have suffered spiritual or emotional abuse in a church context, it’s likely that narcissistic behavior was at play. I think you may also find this book healing, as I did. It will also help you grow in empathy for those who have suffered this kind of abuse.
- Co-Laborers, Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation edited by Brittany Smith and Doug Serven
This book also contains contributions from a number of authors. Each author attends or works in a PCA church. The purpose of the book is to help us, as members and leaders in PCA churches, have a “family conversation” about how men and women serve together in ministry. Do our words and actions toward one another always line up with what we believe the Bible teaches about men and women? Some of the authors are writing from having been deeply wounded by church members or leaders in the past. Others exhort us to approach these matters with wisdom and grace. I wish every PCA church member would read this book.
- 7 Myths About Singleness by Sam Allberry
Many of you are likely already familiar with Sam Allberry. He is a pastor in England whose same-sex desires have led him to live a chaste and single life. I am grateful for his voice and heart in this book. He tackles many false assumptions we often make about singleness, such as the absence of “good things” like intimacy, family, or meaningful ministry. This book encourages us to rethink singleness as a gift from God and teaches all of us – single or married – to value singles as an integral part of the church body.
- Talking as Teammates by Steve Hoppe
My friend Steve Hoppe has written a wonderful 31-day devotional for married couples. Neva and I recently started this devotional together, and immediately we were able to get to some deep and meaningful conversations about our relationship. This devotional is specifically designed to help married couples address conflict and handle it better. Looking at the rest of its contents, I can easily say it is one of the best books for married couples available today. If you want to grow in empathy and loving others well, why not start at home first?
Books specifically on addressing racism or racial reconciliation in the church:
Each of these resources will help you approach these sensitive matters with empathy, humility, and gentleness. Resources with an asterisk (*) are written from a non-Christian perspective. I want to be clear that I may not endorse every conclusion or recommendation in these books. However, these are some of the best books to start with when trying to understand these matters and how we can respond as citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
Before you jump into any of the below books, you should begin by reading the PCA report on Racial Reconciliation which came out a few years ago. One of the great benefits of being in a Reformed denomination like the PCA is our ability to be connected to a larger body of churches. As a member of a PCA church, it is good for you to be aware of what is going on in the life of our denomination.
The purpose of this report was to threefold: 1) to assess the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation, 2) identify specific problems the PCA needs to address to promote racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity, 3) to develop constructive guidelines and suggest concrete steps for the use of the PCA, including presbyteries and local churches.
This report is an excellent starting point for understanding how our denomination is trying to approach these matters.
- Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
In this book, authors Michael Emerson and Christian Smith report on a large study they conducted with evangelicals to better understand how we approach issues surrounding race and racism. Using their study, they unpack the different ways black and white evangelicals tend to see these matters, and how we often talk past each other – making everything worse. If you want some common language and understanding for what we mean when we say, “racial reconciliation,” read this book.
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
This next book requires you to read with a humble and open heart. The Color of Compromise is a quick, well-written history on the American Evangelical Church and its responsibility for racial injustice. Tisby argues that the American Church has helped create racist ideas as practices. It is also the institution which has worked against racial justice for centuries.
History isn’t over. The story in this book is just the prologue to a story that is still being written. You may not agree with every assessment or conclusion that Tisby makes. But it would be good for us to wrestle with this history and its implications on our church community today. If we want to grow in our ability to be a welcoming and engaging community, we need to listen to this history, feel the pain in its pages, and talk about what we can do as a church to write a better story in the present.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, there are also some great videos you can watch for free which accompany this book.
- The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn Ince (Preorder)
I am incredibly excited for this book, which doesn’t come out until August of this year. Some of you may know Dr. Irwyn Ince, who was recently the moderator of our General Assembly a couple years ago. He is a pastor and member of our presbytery and serves with the Grace DC churches as their leader of the Institute for Cross-Cultural Ministry. I have so much respect for Dr. Ince, and his voice is one of wisdom and grace. Here is the description for this book, which I heartily recommend you pre-order:
The church is at its best when it pursues the biblical value of unity in diversity. Our world has been torn asunder by racial, ethnic, and ideological differences. It is seen in our politics, felt in our families, and ingrained in our theology. Sadly, the church has often reinforced these ethnic and racial divides. To cast off the ugliness of disunity and heal our fractured humanity, we must cultivate spiritual practices that help us pursue beautiful community. In The Beautiful Community, pastor and theologian Irwyn Ince boldly unpacks the reasons for our divisions while gently guiding us toward our true hope for wholeness and reconciliation. God reveals himself to us in his trinitarian life as the perfection of beauty, and essential to this beauty is his work as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The gospel imperative to pursue the beautiful community―unity in diversity across lines of difference―is rooted in reflecting the beautiful community of our triune God. This book calls us into and provides tools for that pursuit.
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson*
This book tells the true story of Bryan Stevenson as he labored to free Walter McMillian from death row, who was sentenced for a crime which he did not commit. This legal case was a web of racial prejudice and conspiracy. It is a winsome, passionate story about the fight for mercy and justice.
There is also a wonderful movie based on this book, which is currently available to rent for free on most major outlets (iTunes, Amazon Prime, etc.). At the very least, watch this movie!
- Pick One:
Each of these books that follow tell a different historical perspective on our racialized society. Pick one where the subject matter might interest you most. There are so many layers to the racial injustices in our country’s history, and we will likely never understand all of them. Each of these books is a good starting point.
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander*
In this book, Michelle Alexander looks at the issue of mass incarceration in the United States. She argues that we have not ended racial caste systems in America, we have simply redesigned them through the prison system. Through “Law and Order” and the “War on Drugs”, she argues that communities of color have been completely decimated. If you want to understand issues surrounding the criminal justice system and why people are advocating for reform on the prison systems, read this book.
- The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein*
I know very little about zoning or housing laws. As such, there were some portions of this book that went a little bit over my head. But overall, this book was a heartbreaking history of how government policies have intentionally kept white and black communities segregated long after it was no longer supposed to be legal to do so. We tend to think that communities are “de factosegregated”, that is, they are segregated because of private choices and practices of individuals. In this book, Rothstein makes a convincing argument that communities are still segregated because of de jure segregation, stemming from laws and public policy.
In a 2019 report, Montgomery County officials revealed the racial and ethnic housing disparities present in our county because of historic segregated housing policies. If you want to understand how these historic practices have created the communities we see today, Rothstein’s book is a great place to start.
- Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi*
This is the densest and longest book on this list. Coming in at over 600 pages, the purpose of this book is to tell the history of racist and antiracist ideas in America. Through this book, Kendi tackles a popular misconception about racism in America. We tend to think that it was ignorance or hatred which created racist ideas, which then led to discrimination. Instead, Kendi argues that it was racial discrimination which created racist ideas, which then led to ignorance and hate.
A recent, shorter republication of this book was published under the title Stamped with co-author Jason Reynolds. Written more for teens and Young Adults, every reader might find this version more accessible.
Stamped from the Beginning can also be accessed as an audiobook on Spotify for free.