17 books that might challenge your views on justice, reform, and grace

17 books that might challenge your views on justice, reform, and grace

I’m halfway through a Masters in Theology and Culture. I’ve got 15 books to recommend, if you want to read about justice and culture. You’ll find short summaries below so you can decide what you’d like to read.

The program’s emphasis is social justice within our society because culture revolves around social issues and governmental response to social concerns and needs. Theology (more commonly known as religion, Christianity, and faith) influences societal norms, beliefs, debates, and reforms. Basically, I’m studying why we live like we do and behave like we do and how we should change.

This semester I’ve been on an interesting and surprising journey, re-examining issues of race, prejudice, incarceration, death penalty, immigration, and more. My goal is to take every societal issue and look at it from a different Biblical viewpoint.

I’m surprised at how different my reading has been from the proof-texts I learned as a Christian teen and college-student. I’m ready to make a book list of suggested titles, many by people of faith, and only some of them for school. These are a collection of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and biography that I have enjoyed.

Well, enjoyment is a broad term. To be brutally honest, these books are wrecking me.

I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, because ranking them is too difficult.

  • Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision by Stpehen Offutt and others; 5 authors make a compelling case for Christians to advocate for justice–to champion the poor and disenfranchised. Through Scriptural proofs and examination of Jesus’ ministry, they make a strong argument.
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah; a first-person account of forced conscription as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone; Beah’s story bears some controversy over some possible embellishments, but it is shocking, realistic, and riveting nonetheless.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell; the clever and timeless allegory of the Russian Revolution; its application to current governmental practices and societal norms is still startling today. It’s a wise warning against ambition and class distinction.
  • A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; from interviews to famous speeches like “I Have a Dream” and “Give us the Ballot,” Dr. King doesn’t disappoint in his message of love and equality.
  • Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne; closely examines the failings of the death penalty, child sentencing, systematic killing on a culture, and the trauma inflicted on generations of dehumanization.
  • I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai; an advocate for education of girls and women, teenage Malala was shot by the Taliban and survived. Malala is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story is inspiring.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; a non-profit defense attorney records the stories of race, wrongful imprisonment, incarceration, and execution, primarily in the Deep South; his statistics and case studies are so disturbing, I cried through much of the book.
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela; a riveting account of apartheid, race, colonization, and socialism from Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner-turned-President of South Africa.
  • Night by Elie Weisel; a child survivor of the Holocaust and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Weisel writes a compelling and alarming account of genocide in relation to his family, his faith, and his own personality.
  • Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent–true story of homelessness, poverty, prejudice, class, spiritual transformation, and charity. The movie is also really good.
  • Seeking Refuge by Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smear; this group of expert researchers clear up misconceptions about refugees, immigration concerns, undocumented persons, and terrorist threats.
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom; Corrie retells the story of her Dutch family’s protection of Jews during World War II and their subsequent imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. Her God-honoring attitude of grace, mercy, and forgiveness dispels revenge, hate, and bitterness.
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd; Kidd weaves together a beautiful story of the historical Grimke sisters from Charleston during the 1800s. Sarah Grimke’s dedication to her Negro maid Handful launches her into participation in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement. Kidd’s dedication to authentic detail paints a realistic picture of slavery and class.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Lee’s only novel tells the story of wrongful imprisonment, class, race, bigotry, and the systemic problems in Alabama justice. You will be angered, entertained, and challenged. And you will improve your vocabulary. And it’s a classic black-and-white movie starring Gregory Peck.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Louis Zamperini was a ruffian, an Olympian, a fighter pilot, a marooned sailor, and a prisoner of war. His seemingly impossible true adventures are riveting and heart-wrenching. The story ends with faith, which is a nice touch. The movie is incredible, but so is the book.
  • Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang; a fresh approach to the topic of immigration in Scripture, our nation’s history, and our present day. With remarkable statistics and compelling argument, this book gives readers a lot to think about.
  • 1984 by George Orwell–a classic tale of censorship, propaganda, governmental control; it’s the birthplace of terms like “doublethink” and “doublespeak.”

There are more. Please recommend your favorites. I’m missing books in several categories of justice–hopefully, those will come later.

My biggest take-away here and the truth I want to share is this: the most important aspect of advocacy is not political or religious correctness. It’s not sticking to what you were taught or what everybody else thinks. It’s exploring culture for yourself and comparing it with the whole of Scriptural teaching–not isolated passages referring to war, marriage, slavery, women’s roles, or sexuality.

The Bible makes sense when you look at its entirety–Jesus was a fulfillment of God’s law and a replacement for God’s law. We must consider all of Biblical teaching when we develop perspectives and beliefs about how people and systems should work within culture. We are called to be salt and light–catalysts within cultural systems. There is never an assumption in Scripture after the fall of Israel that God would would choose Christian leaders to form Christian nations that enforced Christian laws. The assumption and the command in Scripture is to endure persecution, rescue the afflicted, share the good news, and love one another.

That’s social justice. That’s the true gospel.