22 December 2014

My Top Ten Books of 2014

In each of the last couple of years, I have put together a list of my top 10 favorite books from the year. Parenthetically, several months ago I decided to shoot for 100 books this year, but a friend of mine encouraged me to intentionally not meet that goal. I had been on track to avoid that goal, but in looking back through the year's list, I overshot the goal by a few.

This was a banner year for book reading as I read some exceptionally good books. Sometimes it is hard to know what to include in my top 10, but this year, it wasn't difficult because I fudged a bit. You will see how below.

1. Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. I read Duguid's book early in 2014 and I began my review, "I picked up Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness (2013) on the recommendation of a friend (Keith Plummer) who tweeted, 'OK, so I didn't put together a Best Books of 2013 list, but if I had, this would have topped it.' I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas and included this book as a part of my order.

"Unlike my friend, I did put together a best books of 2013 list, BUT if I had read Extravagant Grace, this would also have topped my list. To me, this book was simply remarkable. Strongly influenced by the work of John Newton, Duguid wrote an extended meditation on the work of grace in the lives of weak sinners."  As far as I am concerned, Extravagant Grace maintained the top spot all year.  

2. Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg. I loved this book. In my review, I described it as gold. In the book, Ortberg explores why relationships and boundaries are important. He writes with an engaging style and is a wonderful storyteller. So far, I have purchased 5 copies and given a few away. If you read this review, and you want a copy AND you will actually read it, let me know. The first person to let me know, I will give a copy of the book. [Honorable Mention: I also read Ortberg's Soul Keeping this year, which is also excellent.]

3. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. When I first received a copy of this book, the Amazon ratings seemed improbably high, but my 5 star rating was happily added. The story is autobiographical and deals with Qureshi's explorations of, and eventual conversion to Christianity. 

4. The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund. In this book,
Ortlund moves out with the gospel in concentric circles, starting with its importance to the self, then the church, and eventually "for everything". He rightly argues that the gospel transforms at each of these levels. In other words, Christ's redeeming work is not just for the individual soul, though it is assuredly for that, but it is also for the whole world. [Honorable Mention: I also read Ortlund's Supernatural Living for Natural People, an extended meditation on Romans 8. This would also be in my Top 10 of the year, but I will just include it here so I can write about more books.]

5. Joy For the World by Greg Forster. Forster believes that the Christian's joy in God can change things. I believe he is right. In my review, I wrote, "though I have read hundreds of books over the last few years, there are only a very few that I consider must reads. Joy for the World will now be on that list and that is especially true if you are drawn to books like Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Plantinga, Culture Making by Crouch, or any of the works of Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, or Francis Schaeffer." 

6. Why Sin Matters by Mark McMinn.  A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of this book. I left it sit for a while, but once I began reading, I couldn't put it down. In my review, I noted that although the front cover would lead one to believe this is primarily a book about sin, I think it is much more about grace. In fact, I emailed Dr McMinn and told him how enamored I was with this book and he sent me a signed copy. I encouraged him to talk with his publisher about a re-release of the book under a different title because I want to see people read this one.  

7. What's Best Next by Matt Perman. I probably would not have chosen this book if it was not included as a selection from a blogger review program I am a part of, but seeing it there, I thought I might as well give it a try. I was not disappointed. I went in wondering how someone could apply the gospel to issues of productivity and I came away with my eyes opened wide. There is so much meat in this book that I will likely have to revisit it a few times to a get a fuller sense of what Perman has to say. 

8. Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli. I heard about this book from my friend Mark.  In my review, I wrote, "Messy Spirituality is not a book for those who have it together in their spiritual lives. It is not for those who are pretty good at Christianity. It is not for straight-laced, well-behaved people who like their Christianity easily definable and controllable. Rather, it is a book for sinners, wretches, and rogues who have no hope apart from Jesus who loves them and lavishes them with grace." This book will likely leave some of you feeling uncomfortable in the same way that Brennan Manning leaves you feeling that way. 

9. Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. This year, I read a handful of books about the Trinity and this was my favorite of the bunch. Reeve's approach drew me closer to God, which is a great outcome of any book.  If you want to know more about the Trinity this is a great one. 

10. Jesus, Continued... by JD Greear. Jesus Continued... is about the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals all too often have a poor pneumatology, or theology of the Spirit. In this book, he writes passionately and in a way that gives glimpses to what we are missing. 

More Honorable Mentions: I read some other excellent books this year. I read through nearly all of Larry Crabb's works this year and their influence upon me is unparalleled. I have some favorites, though I generally like them all quite well. If I would have included him in the above list, he probably would have replaced some of those on the list.  I guess my advice is, read Larry.  There were also several re-reads this year that are perennial favorites of mine: Desiring God by John Piper, Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, True Spirituality and the Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer, Prodigal God and the Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller, and Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce by CS Lewis.

If you are looking for some good reading material, anything from this list would be wonderful. If you want recommendations on a specific theme, just ask! 

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