Book and ideas are my gig. It’s important for me not only to keep current culturally (I try to keep my musical tastes broad and I take in as many movies as I can) but usually I pass the time away reading books. So here are the top eight books I’ve read this year. Most of the books either were written this year or were released at the end of last year. My favorite read is older but I included it because it rivaled the excellencies of God and Guinness a few years back!
8. Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. John Piper recommended this book so I picked it up. It’s a short book that can be read fairly quickly. It not only includes reading books from a Christian perspective but also offers practical tips on reading with intention and getting the main point. To be honest, the first part wasn’t too compelling. I thought that it could be written much simpler and with much more emphasis on reading books written by people who are not Christian. However, the second part of the book is worth its price.
7. All books Keller. Rather than include them one at a time, I think it’s appropriate to include all three from Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, who is quickly becoming quite the prolific author. Center Church, Every Good Endeavor, and The Meaning of Marriage (co-authored by his wife, Kathy) all have the gospel central to the book. Church, vocation, and marriage are all deeply connected to the gospel and Keller makes a strong argument for a re-envisioning of all three that leads to a greater flourishing not just of Christians but of culture as a whole. In my opinion, Tim Keller is akin to a modern day example of C.S. Lewis… well-thought out, wise, and Christ-centered. Great combination!
6. Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life edited by Mike Austin. I included the book because I’ve known Mike since our days with Campus Crusade. He’s a great thinker as well as a friend so I wanted to give him some props! And the book has two of my favorite people as contributors – Dave Horner and David Turner! Actually the book is a wonderful collection of articles from philosophers, theologians, and pastors as they take eleven key virtues and practically expound on them. My favorite? The Horner/Turner contribution on zeal. Who writes on that in a book of virtues?
5.. Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luekin. Fascinating story of a church east of Sacramento that began a journey to move from appealing to those interested in Christianity to a church that is focused on heart transformation. I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive but the pressures of being relevant to people’s lives often leaves out harder issues like dealing with the heart. The thrust of the book is to explore what it means to be transformed apart from starting with behavior. In spiritual formation language, the journey this church took was one of active desolation. In other words, it was not a passive desolation that God allows a person to go through This was active in the sense that decisions the church made to stay true to a particular vision led to a mass exodus of people. Must read for those interested in spiritual formation.
4. Slouching Toward Adulthood by Sally Koslow. What is going on with young adults that seem to extend their adolescence well into their thirties? Why the reluctance to enter into adulthood? This is a good read for those interested in gaining a picture of why young adults are “slouching” toward the future. The language is harsh at points but it provides a good picture of how even those who are not Christian are noticing something is wrong. I was particularly interested in the chapters on marriage, work, and religion. They provide a slacker’s view of three key institutions!
3. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat. Op-ed writeer for the New York Times. His book examines the slow decline of religious faith into what he considers to be heresy. In many places he’s spot on however, I think the word “heresy” needs a bit more structure. It’s certainly strong language to call something heresy. That said, what is offered today to many is not just a shade of Christianity but something completely different. It’s worth the time to read.
2. To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter. As a former Campus Crusade staff member this one had something personal to it. How do we change the world? Evangelicals who take the Great Commission seriously have approached it in a particular way. Hunter deconstructs the ways we have tried with the conclusion that all have failed. His suggestion is much more in line with the older Christians who believed in a “faithful presence”. This is not a book that will fire you up but rather leave you with the sense that what God wants is for us to be faithful right where we are at.
1. Drinking with Calvin and Luther by Jim West. Actually written in 2003, I’m ten years behind. The book is a historical recounting of the understanding and use of alcohol (mostly beer and wine) in Christianity’s history. Focusing on both Martin Luther and John Calvin, you are given a picture of how alcohol was a part of their life and the Puritans who followed. I laughed out loud when I read that one of the first buildings the Puritans erected at Plymouth Rock was a brewery! The second part of the book focuses on the theology of alcohol as found in the sacrament of the Eucharist. So, obviously if alcoholism runs in your family, this is not a good read. However, if you find that you’ve inherited negative taboos about alcohol this might be just the book to read!
Time to start thinking about what to read next year!