OP-ED: The Big Book List Blog by Jennifer Bell

Jan 7, 2022

A NOTE FROM VERMON PIERRE: Jennifer Bell reads a whole lot of books from a wide range of people. So it’s always interesting to hear about what she’s reading and what she thinks about what she’s reading (in her uniquely, colorful way :). Here is her provocative, personal take on some of the books she read in 2021. 

This year, I decided to get a grip. I read a lot. Like, a ton. But it had been a while since I checked out the contemporary Christian book scene (not fiction—no way). Were there particularly insightful books with writerly finesse and authenticity? Could I find strong theological insight without pedantic finger-pointing? Were there new takes on old subjects? Critiques of relevant topics?

I decided to read one faith-based book per month. I’d ask for recommendations. Twelve books. 

You know what? It was a good reading year! I ended up reading fourteen Christian-y books, some über-lib, some über-conservative. There were Anglicans and Calvinists, women and men, artists and professors. I learned a lot.

With more brevity than I like, here are some notes . . .

I read the following (in alphabetical order):

  1. Sho Baraka: He Saw That It Was Good 

Best cover. Felt disjointed. 

  1. Beth Allison Barr: The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

A book that made me reconsider many of my previous views on this topic. I’m glad I read it.

  1. Voddie T. Baucham: Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe

CRT is, like, hot. It messes with my life in academia. Frankly, I’m upset. I’m upset because CRT is secular, but the backlash against it so anti-intellectual; I can’t take it. On one side, you’ve got secular humanism; on the other, you’ve got evangelicals who REALLY need to read books by, say, Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Ralph Ellison or James Baldwin or Ta-Nehisi Coates or others . . . Do I think literature will save us? No. But it would help . . . So I took copious notes on Voddie. Great, truthful ideas. But my notes shifted as I read on . . . “Voddie Bauchum book has officially degenerated into a cauldron of the usual. . .” “Voddie is now hairsplitting. It’s hard. I get literal anxiety reading that tone. . .” What We Need: Something Else. Something that never, ever diminishes the real and historic and lasting legacy of racism, and something that points to Christ and redemption and reconciliation with the reality of atonement. 

  1. Rachel Held Evans: Monkey Town
  1. Rachel Held Evans: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
  1. Rachel Held Evans: A Year of Biblical Womanhood : How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her

Rachel Held Evans tragically died in 2019 after an allergic reaction to antibiotics while in a medically-induced coma. She was only 37, and she left behind a husband and two kids. I read four of her books this year. Out of all of the Christian books I read, I liked her persona and writing the best. We are not theologically aligned—but here was a woman I truly grieve over. A good woman, a Christian woman. She wrote well. Upon her death, I thought—REALLY—I might try (on my mini-scale) to pick up her torch—do what she did. Write that deep Christian stuff with the humor and honesty. . . She’ll say what others don’t like to say. She was a blogging queen, writing about women and faith and things she was thinking about.

But then two things prevent me from doing so:

1. She’s too liberal. My theology is not.

2. I’m too liberal. I say crazy stuff.

So, Rachel. RIP! See you later, alligator. 

  1. Rachel Held Evans: Wholehearted Faith
  1. Makoto Fujimura: Art & Faith: A Theology of Making
  1. Timothy Keller: The Prodigal God
  1. Thomas R. Kelly: A Testament of Devotion
  1. Jackie Hill Perry: Gay Girl, Good God
  1. Dennae Pierre: Healing Prayers and Meditations: To Resist a Violent World
  1. Rachel Joy Welcher: Talking Back to Purity Culture

This woman! I didn’t even know what purity culture was till a friend told me a few months ago, and I realized that I grew up in it! I mean, I TOTALLY GREW UP IN IT! I read this and she’s offering a healthy perspective. I made my teenagers read it (save it for mature teens). I don’t think they were eager to talk with mom about it—but I think this is an important read nonetheless. 

  1. NT Wright: Surprised by Hope 

Well, the deal is this: I fully agreed with him. If you’re thinking that my reading isn’t theological enough or is too social-justice-y or girlish, start here.