Among the big titles publishers of books on religion and spirituality will release in 2020 are works that offer both fresh takes on evergreen topics in the broad category and, notably, continue the cultural conversation about the intersections of faith, politics, and social issues.
Big Authors, Major Books
Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, biographer, and expert on the presidency, offers a different kind of book in February. In The Hope of Glory (Convergent, Feb.), Meacham ponders the seven last sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, exploring the core teachings of Christianity through a personal lens. Declaring his own faith, he writes: “I am one among that innumerable company [of Christians]... and this book is... a devotional work, not a scholarly one.”
From “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” to “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Meacham shows how Jesus’s last words are of love, grace, and mercy—revolutionary in his time, and often still today. Meacham has been everywhere in the media talking about the book, which joins his roster of bestsellers, among them American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation and The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. Meacham holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in the American Presidency and is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University and a contributing writer to the New York Times Book Review, a contributing editor to Time, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians.
A recently uncovered work written by St. John Paul II will be published in April by Ave Maria Press. Teachings for an Unbelieving World: Newly Discovered Reflections on Paul’s Sermon at the Areopagus was written by then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Kraków in the years just after Vatican II. Using Paul’s sermon to the people of Athens in Acts 17 as a framework for articulating the Catholic faith, John Paul writes, “The imperative to proclaim the Gospel to every creature resounds unceasingly: to those to whom the Gospel still is not known, to those who know it insufficiently or do not put it into practice enough, and finally to those who know it but, for various reasons, ignore it.” Elected the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years, John Paul died in 2005 and was canonized in 2014. This is the first English-language publication of the book.
Evangelicals and Politics
The flow of books about the intersection of religion with today’s political and social issues continues. In Saving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nation’s Capital and Redeem a Christian America (Univ. of North Carolina, Apr.), author Lauren R. Kerby—education specialist for the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School—explores the world of Christian heritage tours of Washington, D.C., riding the buses with evangelical tourists as they search for evidence that America was founded as a Christian nation.
White evangelicals see the nation’s origins as Christian, Kerby writes, and this vision of American history allows them to play the roles of both the powerful and the persecuted. On the heritage tours, “At certain moments, white evangelical tourists and guides appealed to the Christian Right’s myth of origin, casting themselves as the nation’s founders,” Kerby writes. “At other moments, however, they described looming threats to America Christians and their heritage, casting themselves in alternate roles as exiles from powerful institutions and victims of secularizing forces. And throughout the tours, they cast themselves as the nation’s would-be saviors.”
In White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America (New York Univ., June), Khyati Y. Joshi argues that the Christian beliefs, norms, and practices that infuse our society are used to define who is American, leaving religious minorities sidelined and excluded. Christian privilege in the United States has always been entangled with the ideas of white supremacy, Joshi writes; she urges readers to help America become the diverse democracy—with true freedom of religion—that many think it is. Joshi is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity in Indian America.
White evangelicals use scripture to support their positions on political issues such as same-sex marriage and immigration, but in The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions (Eerdmans, Jan.), Tremper Longman III argues that is not the correct use of the Bible in contemporary political discussion. “The Bible does not give us specific public policies,” he writes. “Rather... it gives us general principles that we should take seriously as we think through issues of public policy and make political decisions.” Longman is a distinguished scholar and professor emeritus of biblical studies at Westmont College, as well as one of the translators of the New Living Translation of the Bible.
Running for Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good by Robb Ryerse (Westminster John Knox, Feb.), with a foreword by Brian D. McLaren, tells of pastor and progressive Republican Ryerse’s long-shot congressional campaign in 2018. In what Westminster calls a “political and faith memoir,” Ryerse recounts the lessons he learned about how political affiliations shape American views about the proper role of government in people’s lives; he urges others to get involved in politics as an expression of progressive faith.
Chalice Press publishes many books on contemporary social issues and the church. President and publisher Brad Lyons notes, “Our spring 2020 titles focus on creating connections amid our religious, political, and ethnic differences and reflect our continuing commitment to offering practical, trustworthy resources to help people wrestle with urgent social justice issues.”
Acting on Faith: Stories of Courage, Activism, and Hope Across Religions, edited by Diane Faires Beadle and Jamie Lynn Haskins (Chalice, Mar.), tells the stories of 30 people from six different faith traditions who celebrate their religious differences and join in striving for justice and advocating for the oppressed. Beadle is the senior pastor of St. Paul’s Christian Church in Raleigh, N.C.; Haskins is the chaplain for spiritual life at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va.
Kaitlin B. Curtice—a member of the Potawatomi Nation—shows in Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God (Brazos, May) how reconnecting with her roots has both shaped and challenged her Christian faith. Curtice travels around the country speaking on faith and justice in the church as it relates to indigenous peoples and has been featured on CBS and in USA Today and the New Yorker. A monthly columnist for Sojourners and a contributor to the Religion News Service, Curtice also is the author of Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places.
The plight of refugees and their role in American society come to life in My Name Is Tani... and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy’s Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion (W, Apr.). Tani Adewumi tells how his family survived Boko Haram’s reign of terror in their native Nigeria until their escape to New York City, where they wait to be granted religious asylum as Christians persecuted in an Islamic country. In a story of triumph and inclusion, eight-year-old Adewumi joins the chess program at his public school and wins the New York State Chess Championship after playing the game for only a year.
Exploring what publisher Oxford calls “the dark attraction between religion and warfare” is God at War: A Meditation on Religion and Warfare by Mark Juergensmeyer (June), who has studied the rise of religious violence around the world, including that of groups such as ISIS and Christian militias. War is central to the worldview of virtually every religious movement engaged in violent acts, he writes. Juergensmeyer is a distinguished professor of sociology and global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was founding director of the Orfalea Center of Global and International Studies, and is the author of Terror in the Mind of God.
Religion & Classical Warfare: Archaic and Classical Greece by Christopher Matthew, Matthew Dillon, and Michael Schmitz (Pen and Sword Military, Feb.) takes the long view, noting that ancient warriors also used their beliefs to justify war and called on God for victory. The authors argue that the link between war and religion has often been overlooked by modern scholars.
Theology & Practice
If theology is the why, religious practice is the how, and there are always books in the category designed to help readers live their faith. In How to Follow Jesus (HarperOne, Feb.), Craig Springer, executive director of the evangelism movement Alpha USA, shows that the myths surrounding Christianity are obstacles to its growth. He argues that sin and temptation are not the greatest threat to faith, that forgiveness means facing emotions instead of denying them, and that disappointment in the church can be essential for its growth. HarperOne calls How to Follow Jesus “a must-read for new and returning Christians.”
Great preaching can offer a religious practice too, and Keeping Hope Alive: Sermons and Speeches of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. by Jesse L. Jackson Sr. (Orbis, Jan.), edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, collects the famed civil rights advocate’s words over a long career, with a foreword by Otis Moss Jr. and an afterword by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. “After all these years,” Jackson writes, “what remains for me is God is a source of mystery and wonder. Scripture holds up. The righteous are not forsaken. We’ve come a long way since slavery time. But we’re not finished yet. Running for freedom is a long distance race.” Jackson is founder and president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, and served as shadow U.S. senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997.
Scripture study is the practice at the heart of Christianity, and in Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross (New Growth, Jan.), Rob Nash looks afresh at the crucifixion, encouraging readers to see the forgiveness, hope, comfort, and compassion offered by Jesus in his final moments. Nash serves as a pastor at Sawyer Highlands Church in Southwest Michigan.
Another of Christianity’s foundational practices is prayer, and in Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Meant to Be Safe (Zondervan, Feb.), Craig Groeschel (Hope in the Dark) confronts the timeless question “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Groeschel encourages readers to look inward and use prayer to search their own souls to bring positive change.
From Catholic publisher Loyola comes Finding God in the Mess by Jim Deeds and Brendan McManus (Jan.), which is inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and provides daily reflections and space to journal. “Life is difficult but not impossible and can be rich and fulfilling,” McManus writes. “It is essential to believe that there is something positive in everything, that God is in it somewhere, and that we can get through it with help.”
For some, managing money is a spiritual practice: Kingdom Stewardship by Tony Evans (Focus on the Family, Jan.) aims to broaden Christians’ ideas of what stewardship means—managing not only money but time and talents, as well, with the goal of serving God. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. His daily radio show, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, can be heard on more than 1,200 radio outlets throughout the U.S. and in more than 130 countries. He serves as chaplain for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and is the former chaplain for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Provisions of Abundance: 365 Days of Devotions for Financial Prosperity by Ryan Mack (HCI, Aug.) offers a yearlong program of daily readings and scripture passages aimed at helping Christians put their finances in order by reflecting on their spending and being grateful for what they have. “Expect to put in some real work while creating Godly habits,” Mack writes. “While God can bless you in an instant, most of the time God will give you an instruction to follow to justify the blessing.” Mack has appeared on BET, CNBC, CNN, and GMTV and has been featured in publications such as African American Family and Black Enterprise; he contributes to Ebony, Essence, Fortune, HuffPost, and other publications.
Marriage & Family
Matters of mating and raising children are frequent sources of inspiration for Christian books. According to Moody Publishers, there are more than 113 million people in blended families in the U.S., and Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages and Becoming Stepfamily Smart by Gary Chapman and Ron L. Deal (Feb.) approaches such families’ unique problems from a Christian point of view. Chapman, author of the perennially bestselling The 5 Love Languages and a national expert on stepfamilies, partners with marriage and family therapist Ron Deal (The Smart Stepfamily) to apply the Love Languages principles to the often challenging task of combining families. The two will travel the country speaking and holding workshops.
Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms by Matthias Roberts (Fortress, Jan.) aims to dispel the teachings of the repressive purity culture of American evangelical Christianity and to deal with the fallout from centuries of teaching that sex—except in marriage—is immoral and taboo. Roberts is a psychotherapist and mental health counselor in Seattle, Wash., and host of Queerology: A Podcast on Belief and Being.
Two Orthodox sex therapists offer Jewish couples ways to enrich their marital and sexual lives and to maintain passion and intimacy within the framework of Jewish tradition. I Am for My Beloved: A Guide to Enhanced Intimacy for Married Couples by Talli Y. Rosenbaum and David S. Ribner (Urim, Jan.) covers Jewish values and attitudes toward sex and provides practical information about sexual anatomy and physiology, as well as emotional intimacy. Rosenbaum is an individual and couples therapist and certified as a sex therapist by the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and the Israeli Society for Sex Therapy. Ribner is the founder and chairman of the Sex Therapy Training Program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and is certified as a sex therapist and supervisor in the U.S. and Israel.
Consider the Women
Among the abundant books for Christian women in the self-help vein is Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life by Beth Moore (Tyndale, Feb.), who assures women the Bible has wisdom to address all of life’s concerns. “Most of us have times when, if we’re honest, we feel like our lives are embarrassingly small and insignificant,” publisher Jan Long Harris says, “like we’re going through a whole lot of pain and striving without much to show for it. Beth gives us hope by revealing the secrets of a meaningful, God-pleasing, flourishing life.” Moore also is the author of Delivered: Experiencing God’s Power in Your Pain.
Social media star Carolanne Miljavac tells how both faith and humor helped her deal with the loss of her seven-year-old niece to cancer in She Laughs (Barbour, Jan.). Miljavac writes that laughter has been essential to her healing, and she calls on readers to join her on the path to joy and peace through humor.
Self-improvement plans for women are legion, but in Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self (Crossway, Mar.), Jen Oshman calls women to turn away from such self-help messages as “Create your own destiny. You be you. Reach for the stars. You can be a self-made woman. You are in charge of your own happiness. You get what you give. Never let them see you sweat. Follow your dreams. Make it happen. You are enough.” Rather, she writes, “rooting ourselves in ourselves has led to our ruin.... We see now that there is no rest for the one who depends on herself for everything.... Let’s admit that we are not enough, and turn to the God who is.”
Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen (WaterBrook, Jan.) challenges Christian women to change their lives by changing their thoughts, with help from God. Allen draws on the Bible as well as recent discoveries in neuroscience to show readers they can stop destructive thoughts and find the truth about God and themselves. Alan is the author of Nothing to Prove.
In the #MeToo era, and with some abuse scandals playing out in churches, it’s crucial to define the proper role of touch in ministry, Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes in Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry (B&H, Feb.). She aims to help families, couples, singles, churches, and communities foster healthy, ministering physical contact.
More generally spiritual is Living Love: 12 Heart-Centered Practices to Transform Your Life by Victoria Price (Dover, Apr.), who writes that daily practices such as gratitude, forgiveness, and being present with others foster the healing power of love. Price is the author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography and The Way of Being Lost: A Road Trip to My Truest Self.
Women in leadership in evangelical churches has been a fraught issue, and in I Am a Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling (NavPress, Mar.), Angie Ward explores the concept of “calling” as it applies specifically to women leaders. “The discovery of any extraordinary calling begins,” she writes, “with ordinary obedience to what God has already revealed.” She adds: “My hope and prayer is that as you read this book, you will experience the power and deep gladness of these two truths: You are unique, and yet, you are not alone.”
“Ward provides a clarion call for women who lead in the complex environment of evangelicalism,” says NavPress editor Caitlyn Carlson. “You are a leader, right where you are, in whatever place of influence you have. Your calling to leadership comes from God, and no other person gets to shake you in that calling.” Ward is a teacher, writer, and pastor’s wife. She is a contributor to Christianity Today’s leadership publications and has served as a contributing editor and editorial advisor for Leadership Journal, Building Church Leaders, and Gifted for Leadership.
In One Hundred Daffodils: Finding Beauty, Grace, and Meaning When Things Fall Apart (Grand Central, Mar.), Rebecca Winn writes of exploring global spiritual practices and Jungian psychology to deal with the dissolution of her 25-year marriage and to achieve self-discovery. A landscape designer, Winn uses nature and the garden as a spiritual metaphor, a sanctuary, and a teacher.
Wisdom from the Buddha
One of the seminal figures who introduced Buddhism to a Western audience was Alan Watts (1915–1973), and in February, Sounds True will publish a new edition of Just So: The Book, which was released as an audiobook in 2017 and is being published in print for the first time. In the book, Watts (The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are) asks the question, “What would you change if you were God? What kind of universe would you design?” and provides an answer: “If you went through the trouble of modeling your own universe and seeing what comes of it, you’d eventually settle on the exact model we have now.” Editor Robert Lee says Watts’s answer is, “Essentially, we are God, and this is what we have created, and if we were to have billions of do-overs (which, in some sense, we already have), this is the exact version we’d create—just so.”
Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs, meditates on being alone in the company of others in The Art of Solitude (Yale Univ., Feb.). Batchelor describes how when he turned 60, he took a sabbatical from teaching and turned his attention to solitude, a practice integral to the meditative traditions he has studied and taught. Batchelor’s explorations taught him that in a hyperconnected world that is at the same time plagued by social isolation, readers can learn to enjoy the solitude that is at the heart of the human experience.
The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns by Matty Weingast (Shambhala, Feb.) is a new rendering of the Therigatha (“Verses of the Elder Nuns”), the oldest collection of known writings from Buddhist women and one of the earliest collections of women’s literature in India. The range of voices includes widows, women who lost children, women who gave up their wealth, and a former prostitute. In the foreword, Bhikkhuni Anandabodhi writes, “These poems have been an invitation to bring light to the hidden corners and the broken parts, to the confused parts and the angry parts, to all the parts that have been pushed aside. Because it’s only when we bring everything onto the Path that the Path can truly transform us.”
The concept of mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness meditation has permeated American culture, and in Mindfulness in Sound: Tune into the World Around Us (Leaping Hare, May), concert pianist, classical composer, and recording artist Mark Tanner, author of The Mindful Pianist, applies mindfulness principles to listening—to music and other sounds—that can help readers consider the origins of resonance and the impact of natural sound. With meditation exercises, Tanner combines “a musician’s understanding of how we listen with an awareness of how tapping in to natural sounds can bring greater self-awareness and inner serenity,” editor Joanna Bentley says.
In Firefighter Zen: A Field Guide to Thriving in Tough Times (New World Library, May), volunteer firefighter Hersch Wilson describes the Zen-like techniques that allow people like him to stay grounded in dangerous and chaotic circumstances and to deal with their own emotions while comforting others. He writes that, as in Zen practice, firefighters are trained to be fully in the moment and present with the life at hand. Wilson is an organizational consultant and pilot. He writes for the Backdraft magazine and for the National Volunteer Fire Council.