December 31, 2012

Top Theo-Political Books of 2012

Canadian Library of Parliament (Photo Credit: CBC.ca)

Canadian Library of Parliament (Photo Credit: CBC.ca)

Many of us here at IRD are committed readers. As such, what better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a favorites list of books published in 2012. I’ve limited the selection to focus on the Institute’s specialty, the intersection of Christian faith and politics.

First, let’s look at this year’s pot-stirrers–authors and works that caused foment and controversy within American churches:

5. Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide by Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson with Robert Jones
Megachurch pastor Mike Slaughter joined Asbury-prof-turned-Sojo-officer Charles Gutenson to address partisan politics within the pews. Their goal is admirable. Of course, conservatives may be suspicious when both authors now share rather leftist positions these days. Nevertheless, the duo works hard to address the problems of civility and faction without forcing their own position across party lines.

4. Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism by David Swartz
The title just about tells it all: a history of the evangelical left during the 1960s and 70s. Read Keith Pavlischek’s in-depth analyses here, here, here, and here.

3. Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll
This single tome caused a flurry of media attention and theological debate for its controversial chapter on sexual relations within marriage. Voices within and without the church believed Real Marriage more than smacked of patriarchy and chauvinism. While liberals rejected the entire point outright, many conservatives condemned the philosophical underpinnings and anthropological ramifications of Driscoll’s views while others came to the popular Seattle pastor’s defense.

2. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans
Providing the catty yin to Driscoll’s overweening yang, Rachel Held Evans cemented her position as the Evangelical Left’s darling by selectively practicing anachronistic Old Testament regulations in her marriage for a year. Coming off as sophomoric at times, the project gained national recognition–thanks in part to Lifeway’s refusal to carry the book.

1. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian McLaren
It’s the latest multi-religious musings of the premier emergent-church guru. What else needs to be said?

Of course, not all of the politics-and-faith books were so flamboyant. Here’s a top 5 list on what’s been informing discussions at the office lunch table:

5. The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place & Community in a Global Age by Mark Mitchell
In a move of triumphant impartiality, I have chosen my alma mater’s political theory professor’s latest book on the importance of gratitude in the political order. Mitchell investigates the benefits of and significant obstacles to gratefulness for God, country, family, tradition, and a host of institutions in the contemporary world. From now on, I will be pointing fellow Christians to this book for a thoughtful resource regarding politics, society, and human life.

4. Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century by Mark Tooley
Another example of perfect objectivity, we’ve nominated our own president’s historical analysis of Methodism’s intersection in the political sphere from McKinley to George W. Bush. In all seriousness, there really has not been a book like it. Mr. Tooley searched for a helpful chronicle on the subject. When he didn’t find it, he decided to make one. We hope it offers a fair-handed springboard for other aspiring historians to reflect on one of America’s most vibrant faith traditions.

3. Between Babel and the Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective by Peter Leithart
The great debunker of the Anabaptist Constantinianism myth returns with his own concerns regarding the Church and empire. Here, he specifically addresses the heresy of Americanism, which conflates America with Old Testament Israel. Even if some disagree with the New Saint Andrew’s professor, they will definitely find him intellectually invigorating.

2. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
A well-received account on why people’s moral intuitions vary. Many may disagree with the highly psychological-sociological approach to such heavy matters as faith and statecraft, but all will benefit from Haidt’s unique perspective.

And cue the drum roll for the big Numero Uno…

1. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat
Whenever we at IRD read quotes from the New York Times‘ writer, we always remarked, “That’s exactly how it is.” Douthat accurately recounts, explores, and critiques the various religious phenomena that we here at the office investigate on a daily basis. This is a must-read for anyone trying to understand contemporary culture, Christianity, and the American experience.

What about you, fair reader? What works published this year did you find enlightening, fascinating, and worth sharing? Comment below!


  • Sara Anderson

    Totally agree with your selection of Bad Religion. He takes just about everyone in the contemporary Christian world to task–without hostility. Definitely required reading.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com Joseph Sunde

    Great lists. The Social Animal by David Brooks ended up being a surprising favorite for me, with many undercurrents pointing to Christianity (whether Brooks knows it or not).

    • Bart Gingerich

      I’ve been meaning to read that. I’ll add it to my list. I always enjoy whenever Brooks waxes Aristotelian in his musings; I assume he does so in his book.

  • Donnie

    I certainly didn’t expect to see Hijacked or Rachel Held Evans on a list from the IRD. ;) But you are right, they certainly were pot stirrers, to say the least.

  • Dave Gingrich

    I wish Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer was required reading in every American seminary.