Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Top Ten Summer Reads 2016

Byron Borger


Summer can be a good time for perusing novels and poems or reading children’s books out loud as a family. Consider adding to the mix some of these recommended non-fiction titles that would be of interest to friends and supporters of the work of the Center for Public Justice.

If you order from Hearts & Minds (a bookstore run for thirty-three years by CPJ supporters Byron and Beth Borger in Dallastown, PA), you can receive a 20 percent discount. Just enter PROMO CODE CPJ.  Happy reading!


1. Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish

C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00

If you want to be renewed in your own intellectual journey or need a reminder of the joys of learning and the value of reading, this new book should certainly be at the top of your list. A delightful and stimulating read, it reminds us that books can change lives and that reading together can change communities. Smith is a co-author of Slow Church, which offered a critique of the Western ideologies of speed, efficiency, and growth, and here, he invites us to slow down, to slow reading. As Ken Wystma (founder of The Justice Conference) observes, “It is a paradigm-altering book and one that is sure to enrich and inspire as we seek to find meaningful ways to think about and engage our communities, cities, and the world.” Karen Swallow Prior assures us that it will motivate “anyone who cares one whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church.” I cannot say enough about this fresh take on an old practice: reading widely and well, for the sake of community and for the sake of shaping our imaginations of what God can do in our world. Of particular interest to CPJ friends is a whole chapter focused on faithful engagement in economics and politics. 


2. The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance

Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99

For those interested in politics and citizenship, we often recommend reading a book (old or new) on a regular basis that outlines well what the Bible says about justice. There are mature, heady tomes and there are short Bible studies. This recent one is nearly perfect, with an excellent, scholarly command of the Scriptures, written with an informative and inspirational touch. A number of authors and activists have said this is one of the best theologies of justice yet done – Andy Crouch says it is “deep, wide, and wise.” This must-read is full of stories and offers a long-haul spiritual wisdom born of the authors’ own work with the International Justice Mission and other public justice advocacy organizations. The subtitle is vital: this book draws us to God and reminds us to root our passion for justice in a persevering hope that is based on God’s own faithfulness.


3. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00

In this passionate follow-up to his inspiring Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times, Guinness exposes the shallow rhetoric and unsustainable thinking of both the left and the right. He insists that we are facing epoch-changing challenges in late modernity and that people of good faith must be willing to speak (and live!) unpopular truths, bearing witness to distinctively Christian alternatives to secularization, secularism, and postmodernism. This is a sobering and provocative call, worthy of our serious discussion and prayerful consideration, issued by one who has been developing these themes in his global travels and studies and preaching all over the world. Guinness is clear about the challenge and unashamed to say what is needed— “impossible people” with “hearts that can melt with compassion, but with faces like flint and backbones of steel who are unmanipulable, unbribable, undeterrable and unclubbable, without ever losing the gentleness, the mercy, the grace and the compassion of our Lord.”


4. How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World

Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans) $16.00

This new book by Wilkinson, a respected film critic for Christianity Today and Joustra, a professor of international studies at Redeemer University in Ontario, is a blast. It offers a great overview of recent themes in popular culture, from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones to House of Cards, and yet it is serious-minded, drawing significantly on Charles Taylor and his analysis of the malaise of modernity. Its basic premise is this: in a culture where our best storytellers and artists are telling us that things are falling apart and that there is no hope, how do we act in the public square for the common good as people of hope? What do dystopian narratives tell us about our culture’s worldview and how do we live well in such anxiety-laden political terrain? Indeed, this is serious business, and yet, as Michael Wear says on the back, “Who said the apocalypse couldn’t be fun?”  Zombie plots, Battlestar Galactica, Scandal and the work of CPJ?  Yes, yes indeed! This is perfect for summer reading.


5. Power Made Perfect? Is There a Christian Politics for the Twenty-First Century?

Timothy Sherratt (Cascade Books) $18.00

CPJ Fellow and Capital Commentary contributor Timothy Sherratt’s new book about political discipleship asks what politics might be like if Christians acknowledged Christ as the true Lord and the “archetype of all rulers, democratic and nondemocratic.” Further, he asks “how would our practice of politics change if we recognized the suffering love of Christ as the truest exercise of power?” Few books in recent years capture the distinctiveness of CPJ’s vision as nicely as Power Made Perfect, a substantive but quite accessible book. Endorsements on the back, not surprisingly, come from three directors of CPJ: Stephanie Summers, Gideon Strauss, and James Skillen. Summers says, “Here we have the resource many citizens have longed for.”  Indeed, Skillen exclaims that “Tim Sheratt has given us a feast!”


6. Five Views on the Church and Politics

Edited by Amy Black (Zondervan) $19.99

As with other books in the “Counterpoints” series, this book presents five views, and after each major chapter, each of the other authors gives a response or critique from their own unique vantage point. It is helpful for readers wanting to explore the different strengths and weaknesses of various traditions within the conversation about faith and politics. In one single volume, you come to understand each particular tradition and the responses of all the others. It is fascinating and illuminating, especially in the give-and-take, which is always courteous (perhaps to a fault.) Edited by Amy Black, a good friend of CPJ and Capital Commentary contributor, this book helps readers consider the strengths and weaknesses of how Christians form their theological visions, and how to best articulate our own visions. The views represented, somewhat following the classic template of Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, are Anabaptist, Lutheran, the historic Black Church, Reformed/Kuyperian, and Roman Catholic. 


7. Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy

Lambert Zuidervaart (McGill University Press) $39.95

Although most of us are not professional scholars, let alone professional philosophers, this book has much to offer its readers. CPJ has long been connected to and informed by Dutch neo-Calvinist philosophy, sometimes referred to as “reformational philosophy.” This new anthology brings together some of the most brilliant and astute (if dense) twenty-first century examples of this philosophy with its roots in the nineteenth century Kuyperian renewal in Holland.  Zuidervaart’s own work is in philosophical aesthetics (he studied under Calvin Seerveld) and critical theory; in recent years he has taught at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto and at the University of Toronto. He has also been involved in ICS’s Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics. This major collection of academic papers and essays is over 400 pages, a treasure trove for those interested in exploring these deep roots and the connections between classic philosophy, religion, culture, and social change.


8. Live Like You Give a Damn! Join the Changemaking Celebration

Tom Sine (Cascade Books) $24.00 

One of CPJ’s core principles is an affirmation of a high view of government while also affirming that the state cannot do everything that needs doing to create a better society. Just principles need to be worked out in various contexts, within various spheres of influence. The younger generations seem to get this, and rather than working only for legislative change, younger activists – many who view themselves primarily as global citizens – have become what the feisty storytelling author and social trend forecaster Tom Sine calls “changemakers.” We see this particularly in social entrepreneurship and community development. Sine explores these innovations for social change and human betterment (and notes that many are led by young people, and those working with no connection to the church.) The bold title reflects the book’s urgent invitation for us to learn from these changemaking movements. Sine calls us to take inspiration from these often successful, innovative efforts to make the world a better place, joining God’s redemptive work in the world. 


9. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing

Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00 

This compact hardback book came out this winter, and if you have not picked up it yet, this summer is a perfect time to enjoy slowly pondering its eloquent and insightful teaching. It is a concise study of how we balance our capacity to use cultural authority – power – with a sense of risk and servant leadership. It explains how we need to manifest both strength and weakness. In brilliant prose that is sure to stimulate your own self-reflection, Crouch ruminates on the misshapen results of wrong ways of exercising power and vulnerability. All power exercised with no vulnerability at all is nearly tyranny; having no power at all and nothing but vulnerability is tragic oppression. Neither are examples of healthy human or cultural flourishing. Crouch gives us in this book an extended reflection on power and vulnerability, on risk and love, on grace and hope. What a great book for anyone hoping to live well, and what an essential one for those taking up positions of leadership, institutional reform, and public service.


10. Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)

Stephen Prothero (HarperOne) $26.99 

Prothero is a fascinating scholar, professor, and public intellectual who has written widely on the role of religion in the modern world. He has lamented American religious illiteracy and makes a case that good citizenship requires a better awareness of the differing truth claims of religions and worldviews. This major recent work is a carefully reasoned social history of the United States which “places today’s heated culture wars within the context of centuries-long struggle of right vs. left to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.” No matter what you think of the Progressives or the Tea Party, the contrasts between secularists and the more traditionally religious, this engaging read will be fascinating and thought provoking. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time – did you know that the election of 1800 pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels”? There have been religiously laden debates throughout our history; he tells us about the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era, the Protestant campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century and more. As Prothero puts it, “in this book I push back against the widespread view that culture wars are nip-and-tuck contests between liberals and conservatives, with relatively equal win/loss records on each side. That is not what I discovered. In almost every case since the founding of the republic, conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won.” There is something about our American ethos that he is exploring here, and agree with it or not, it will thrill those who love social history and studies of the role of religion in society.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”