Recommended Reading

The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump

By Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner passionately and eloquently argues that the great American political tradition is dying – with catastrophic consequences. He surveys the hard lessons we have learned that are now imperiled – why we have checks and balances; why moderation, compromise and civility are essential democratic virtues; and why we need to oppose those, like President Trump, who use words as weapons to annihilate truth. He seeks to revitalize the idea that governing is a serious craft, that faith should elevate rather than coarsen our politics, and that politics is worthy of our respect rather than our cynicism because it is our only means for solving problems and finding justice.

Click to View on Amazon

The Second Mountain: The Search for a Moral Life

By David Brooks

David Brooks traces the movement from climbing a “first mountain,” characterized by the phrase “I’m Free to be Myself,” to climbing a “second mountain” where life moves from self-centered to other-centered, as captured by the phrase “Where All in This Together.” He explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose on the second mountain: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. Particularly provocative is his description of his own religious pilgrimage, ending with his assertion that he is a “wandering Jew and a very confused Christian.”

Click to View on Amazon

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law

By Preet Bharara

As the cover for this book says “These are challenging times. We are told truth isn’t truth, ‘alternative facts’ hold sway, and ethics seem led important than ‘winning.’ Rhetoric in the public square promoted fear and division, not empathy and common ground.” Against this alarming backdrop, Preet Bharara finds hope in a most unexpected place: the American legal system inhabited by criminal prosecutors. Based on his many years as U. S Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he shares numerous compelling stories of the many ways in which the difficult work of a criminal prosecutor in trying to maintain the rule of law can be deeply informed by values such as the quest for truth, the desire to do what is just and restorative for both the perpetrator and the victim, the commitment to resolve disagreements by means of reason and an appeal to evidence rather than taunts and character assassination, and the humble admission that criminal cases are generally so complex that the prosecutor, who is only human, can sometimes get it all wrong.

Click to View on Amazon

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

By Brene Brown

Brown points to the need for each of us to maintain our personal integrity by expressing and living out our value commitments without apology (what she calls having a “strong back”) at the same time that we do not retreat into our tribalistic echo chambers occupied only by those who share our values. Rather, we need to too present a “soft front” to those who disagree with us, characterized by vulnerability, courage, generosity and a willingness to respectfully engage them by first getting to know them (as summarized in the following advice: “People are hard to hate close up; move in”).

Click to View on Amazon

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

By Amy Chua

While recognizing that “humans are tribal” (“We need to belong to groups”). Professor Chua chronicles the ways in which American foreign policy has often been undermined by a failure to recognize the ethnic, religious, sectarian and clan-based group identities that people will “kill or die for,” citing examples that include Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. She concludes by identifying the group identities that prevail in America, many of which are drawn along ethnic and racially lines, which makes every group feel persecuted and discriminated against; arguing that Americas must rediscover a national identity that transcends our political tribes.

Click to View on Amazon

Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal

By Ben Sasse

With great insight, U. S. Senator from Nebraska Ben Sasse chronicles the severe problems in American culture that go much deeper than the brokenness of politics. He points to the scourge of tribalism, an us-versus-them mentality that is causing the collapse of local communities and proposes that a path forward requires a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. As technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness, not in Washington D.C. but locally, can ameliorate our increasing loneliness.

Click to View on Amazon

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

By John Fea

Historian Fea argues that the extensive support of President Trump among evangelical Christians is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. Fea then challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

Click to View on Amazon

Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree with and Maybe Even Change the World

By Justin Lee

In this excellent book, social activist Justin

Lee reveals how to use empathy, storytelling, and strategic dialogue (starting with listening well) to break through the barriers that make people resistant to differing views. He offers particularly helpful advice on how to overcome five major obstacles to breaking out of our current rampant tribalism (an us-versus-them mentality): Ego Protection; Team Loyalty; Comfort; Misinformation; and Worldview Protection.

Click to View on Amazon

We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter

By Celeste Headlee

In this very readable book, the author, a public radio host, provides some very practical advice on how to conduct a civil and helpful conversation. Her good advice includes an exhortation to “listen well” before talking; to avoid making the conversation about you; to pose and acknowledge “great questions”; to be willing to admit that “you may be wrong”; and to know when to “shut up.”

Click to View on Amazon

Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships

By Tim Otto

Tim Otto tells the story of his struggle with being gay. He explores how God is at work in the world, even amidst the most difficult circumstances, redeeming and transforming the church through this difficult debate. With gentle wisdom and compassionate insight, Otto invites all followers of Jesus to consider how we might work with God through these tensions so that all can be transformed by God’s good news in and through Christ.

Click to View on Amazon

Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church

By James Calvin Davis

James Calvin Davis reclaims the biblical concept of “forbearance” to develop a theological ethic for faithful disagreement. Pointing to Ephesians and Colossians, in which Paul challenges his readers to “bear with each other” in spite of differences, Davis draws out a theologically grounded practice in which Christians work hard to maintain unity while still taking seriously matters on which we disagree. He elaborates on how the practice of forbearance relies on the cultivation of familiar virtues in the Christian tradition – humility, patience, hope, wisdom, faithfulness and love – and the Christian values of Truth and Justice.

Click to View on Amazon

  • Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground
    by Richard J. Mouw

    In this splendid memoir, Mouw recounts his “adventures” in living out his calling as “a Calvinist who has tried to promote ‘convicted civility,’ a moderate tone in dialoging with people whom we evangelical types disagree with on serious matters, and a posture of learning from what [he sees] … as the scholarly and cultural gifts distributed by God to the larger human community.” He grounds this calling well in the theological perspective of Abraham Kuyper and in the teaching of I Peter 3: 15 that Christians need to “nurture strong convictions about the content of the gospel,” but need to “do this with gentleness and respect”; at the same time acknowledging the difficulty in maintaining this dual commitment.

  • Enough Said: What's Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?
    by Mark Thompson

    Thompson, the president and CEO of the New York Times Company, argues that there is a crisis of trust in politics across the Western world which leads to a rise in public anger and decreasing faith in conventional political leaders and parties. Telling the story of how we got from the public language of FDR and Churchill to that of Donald Trump, Thompson attributes this political crisis to a new form of public language that is compressed, immediate, sometimes brilliantly impactful, but robbed of most of its explanatory power. 

  • Power Made Perfect?: Is There a Christian Politics for the Twenty-First Century?
    by Timothy Sherratt

    Sherratt poses a provocative question: How would our practice of politics change if we recognized the suffering love of Jesus as the truest exercise of power? He proposes that “Christ is the rightful ruler of the world who exercises power by suffering and dying for guilty humans,” and, therefore, “all political activity is held to the standard of Christ’s sacrifice.” He surveys major political initiatives and schools of Christian political thought, with a particular emphasis on American politics, and then outlines ways in which Christians in churches can practice faithful political engagement.

  • The Good News about Conflict: Transforming Religious Struggle Over Sexuality (Integration)
    by Jenell Paris

    Paris notes that conflicts over homosexuality in Christian churches are “difficult and ugly,” In sharp contrast, she proposes that “it is possible to have healthy conflict, to disagree and struggle together in ways that make us better and that make the church stronger.” She argues that “by looking deeply into the nature of religious conflict, we can cultivate practices and values that will mature our abilities as peacemakers, and strengthen our faith and our churches.”

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
    by Sherry Turkle

    Turkle notes that “we live in a technological world in which we are always communicating and yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. We turn away from each other and toward our phones. We are forever elsewhere.” In sharp contrast, she argues that “to empathize, to grow, to love and be loved, to take the measure of ourselves and each other, we must be in conversation. It is the most human – and humanizing thing that we do,” and it enables us to “rediscover ourselves.”

  • Five Views on the Church and Politics (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)

    This volume edited by Black includes contributions from representatives of five Christian traditions: Anabaptist (Separationist); Lutheran (Paradoxical); Black Church (Prophetic); Reformed (Transformationalist); and Catholic (Synthetic). Each contributor addresses the distinctives of his theological tradition’s political outlook, the role of government within it, the place of individual Christian participation in government and politics, and how churches should (or should not) address political questions.

  • Kingdom Politics: In Search of a New Political Imagination for Today's Church
    by Kristopher Norris, Sam Speers

    Norris and Speers call into question the political extremes of entrenched partisan feuding and turning solely to the state and public policy to find solutions to the world’s problems. They suggest that “the church is inherently political, a community defined by its allegiance to a King … and its call is to work alongside others in pursuit of a new way of life.” Based on the stories of their visits to five diverse congregations across the U. S., they present a “positive vision that takes its cues about politics not from the nation-state, but from another political reality: the kingdom of God.”

  • The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics
    by John Danforth

    Former United States Senator Danforth argues that “shared religious values (embraced by those on both sides of the political aisle) can lead us out of the embittered, entrenched state of politics today.” We must move away from a “political system in which the loudest opinions and the most polarizing personalities hold sway,” toward an approach to politics built around “caring for other people.” He concludes that “our willingness to serve more than our self-interest is religion’s gift to politics.” 

  • Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us
    by Christine D. Pohl

    As reviewer David Gushee says of this “truly beautiful book,” Pohl “moves beyond abstractions about the church as alternative community by offering careful analysis of four core practices that that sustain healthy community: gratitude, promise-keeping, truthfulness and hospitality,” based on “detailed discussions of their biblical-theological dimensions.” She also addresses the complications involved in trying to practice these four virtues in contemporary western cultures. 

  • It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism
    by Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein

    Like many others, Mann and Ornstein bemoan the acrimony and hyper-partisanship of the present political process, in which America’s two political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, thereby endangering constitutional democracy. They conclude that there is no “silver bullet” solution to this political dysfunction. But they offer a set of useful ideas and reforms, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, that will reward problem solving and punish obstruction.

  • American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
    by Robert D. Putnam, David E. Campbell

    While noting the growing polarization between religious conservatives and secular liberals in contemporary American culture, Putnam and Campbell draw on the results of two comprehensive surveys to identify a web of personal ties that lead to greater interfaith tolerance, despite the so-called culture wars. For example, they point to the strengthening of personal interfaith ties brought about by an increase in interfaith marriage and evidence that “more people than ever are friendly with someone of a different faith or no faith at all.”

  • Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress
    by Olympia Snowe

    Renowned moderate Republican Olympia Snowe recounts her decision to vacate her U. S. Senate seat from Maine because the two parties have become so polarized that they will not look for solutions between extremes, even when it is clear that their own side cannot prevail. She argues for the need for principled compromise and consensus-building and presents concrete proposals for correcting the current political dysfunction, including changing Senate rules and congressional procedures, embarking on real campaign finance reform, and building grassroots movements that reward elected officials for consensus-building.

  • Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
    by E.J. Dionne

    Dionne crafts an insightful analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning our current political atmosphere. He argues that, contrary to the current political climate, the American tradition points not to radical self-reliance and self-interest, but to a balance between our love of individual freedom and our devotion to community. Dionne calls politicians to this challenging quest for balance.

  • Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason
    by Amy E. Black

    At a time when public discourse is too often harsh, divisive and hateful, Black calls Christians to take a more reasoned and humble approach to politics. She describes key points of tension that make political dialogue so difficult and offers practical, straightforward guidance for how to engage in political discussions, analyze political issues, and evaluate candidates in ways that honor God.

  • On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good
    by Jim Wallis

    In response to the dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington D. C., Wallis calls us to “commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good” (p. xi). He derives the idea of the common good from Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbor, and argues that “a commitment to the common good is the best way to find common ground with other people – even those who don’t agree with us or share our faith commitments” (p. xii).

  • Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
    by Parker J. Palmer

    Palmer looks with realism and hope at how to deal with our political tensions for the sake of the common good. He names the “habits of the heart” we need to revitalize our politics and shows how they can be formed in the everyday venues of our lives, all for the sake of restoring a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

  • Left Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics
    by Lisa Sharon Harper, D.C. Innes

    In this volume, two Christians who situate themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum identify some common ground and then respectfully share their differing perspectives on the roles of government and business and six public policy issues, including health care, abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration.

  • Dialogic Civility in a Cynical Age: Community, Hope, and Interpersonal Relationships (SUNY Series in Communication Studies)
    by Ronald C. Arnett, Pat Arneson

    Countering the rampant unreflective cynicism of our age of metanarrative decline, Arnett and Arneson propose that respect for the other is a basic building block for a public narrative of dialogic civility. Drawing on the work of several prominent theorists, they conclude with the call from Nel Noddings and Robert Bellah that we start by “listening to the stories of others.”

  • Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Point/Counterpoint: Philosophers Debate Contemporary Issues)
    by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert Audi

    Audi and Wolterstorff present views on the role that religious convictions should have in public debate that reveal some common ground, but significant disagreements. As one reviewer said, “Their debate is itself a model of the richer political discourse our society needs” (Charles Larmore, Columbia University).

  • Academic Life: Hospitality, Ethics, and Spirituality
    by John B. Bennett

    Bennett rejects the competitive and self-serving individualism that he perceives as dominant in the academy, and proposes alternative ideals of hospitality, conversation and covenant – hospitality as openness to others; conversation as  respectful listening to and talking with those having differing perspectives; and covenant as commitment to each other in public pursuit of a common good.

  • Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education
    by David Claerbaut

    Claerbaut calls into question the prevailing dogma that faith has no place in the quest for knowledge in higher education. He then considers how to apply a faith-and-learning approach across a broad spectrum of academic disciplines in the physical sciences, the arts and humanities, and the behavioral sciences.

  • Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (Living Theology)
    by John R. Franke

    Franke presents a study of plurality and diversity as something intrinsic to the nature of Christianity rather than as something extraneous to it. In the words of one reviewer, he “rescues us from both the rigid dogmatism that constricts God’s truth and the ‘anything goes’ pluralism the trivializes it” (Danielle Shroyer).

  • When Tolerance is No Virtue: Political Correctness, Multiculturalism and the Future of Truth and Justice
    by S. Gaede

    Gaede affirms the commitment of Christians to truth and justice. In that context, he considers the issues of multiculturalism and PC (political correctness), helping Christians to understand the current emphasis on diversity and to sort out what they should laud and what they should be wary of in the rush toward tolerance.

  • Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess
    by Douglas Jacobsen, Rodney J. Sawatsky

    This book presents an intelligent, readable, and winsome introduction to the Christian faith as a grace-filled and peaceable way of life, and not as an argumentative and tensely held dogma. The authors intend to engage readers in conversation by posing probing questions throughout their narrative.

  • Let's Talk: An Honest Conversation on Critical Issues : Abortion, AIDS, Euthanasia, Health Care
    by C. Everett Koop, Timothy Johnson

    A lively conversation between two highly respected Christian doctors, in which agreements and differences are laid bare relative to the controversial issues of abortion, euthanasia, AIDS, and Health Care. In contrast to the typical strident public debate about these difficult issues, Koop and Johnson model the ancient adage that “one must not see eye to eye to walk arm in arm.”

  • Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World
    by Richard J. Mouw

    Mouw acknowledges that it is not easy to hold to Christian convictions and treat sometimes vindictive opponents with civility and decency. He presents very helpful insights about what Christians can appreciate about pluralism, the theological basis for civility, and how Christians can communicate with people who disagree with them on critical issues.

  • Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation
    by William C. Placher

    Placher examines religion and the search for truth in a pluralistic society. Among the issues he considers are science and its relation to belief, dialogue among various religions, and theological method. This book presents a cogent philosophical/theological foundation for my invitation to respectful conversation.

  • Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century
    University of Pennsylvania Press

    A collection of essays that evaluates the current condition of public discourse in America and identifies the features and principles that could characterize more productive discourse in the twenty-first century. Essays outline how public conversations can be used to reintegrate fragmented communities and bridge barriers of difference and hostility among communities and individuals.

  • Democracy and Tradition (New Forum Books)
    by Jeffrey Stout

    Stout deals with the timely question as to whether religious perspectives should be permitted in public discourse in America. He carves out a controversial position between those who view religious voices as an anathema to democracy and those who believe democratic society is a moral wasteland because such voices are not heard. Stout calls for public discourse where all voices are welcome and differing perspectives are evaluated on the basis of the cogency of the reasons given in support of any perspective.

  • The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words
    by Deborah Tannen

    Tannen calls into question the pervasive warlike atmosphere that makes us approach anything we need to accomplish as a fight between two opposing sides. Drawing on the work of Amitae Etzioni, she calls for a movement from debate to a “dialogue of convictions” that precludes demonizing those with whom you disagree and focuses on respectfully engaging those holding contrary beliefs without losing touch with the core beliefs about which you are passionate.

  • Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
    by Miroslav Volf

    Volf proposes “the idea of embrace as a theological response to the problem of exclusion” that distorts “our perceptions of reality…causing us to react out of fear and anger to all those who are not within our (ever-narrowing) circle.” In light of this problem, he proposes that Christians must “take the dangerous and costly step of opening ourselves to the other, of enfolding him or her in the same embrace with which we have been enfolded by God.”

  • Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
    by Merold Westphal

    Westphal introduces current philosophical thinking related to interpreting the Bible. He encourages readers to embrace the proliferation of interpretations based on different perspectives as a way to get at the richness of the biblical text.

  • Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling
    by Edgar H Schein

    Schein defines Humble Inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” He contrasts Humble Inquiry with other forms of inquiry, notes how the tacit assumptions of U. S. culture favoring pragmatism, individualism and status through achievement lead to a devaluing of the relationship building that is the starting point for Humble Inquiry, and provides cogent advice on how to overcome the cultural, organizational, and psychological barriers that keep us from practicing Humble Inquiry.