Every December, since 2010, I have put out a list of what I consider to be the best books I read during the year (see the bottom of the page for each of those lists). I typically read between 100 and 150 books each year, some of which rise to the top as particular stand outs. Some books, frankly, sink to the bottom, though I have learned over the years that if I don't particularly like a book, no one will give me detention if I set it aside and don't bother to finish it. So without further ado, here is the 2017 list of best books.
10) Whole Prayer by Walter Wangerin
I am a little surprised that Whole Prayer, now 16 years old, has not been more widely read. Of course there are many books on prayer and it is hard to know where to begin. This one should be amongst those most readily considered. Although Wangerin provides a basic structure--we speak, God listens; God speaks, we listen--it isn't really a prayer manual. Rather, it is a series of reflections about prayer and how we relate to God. Additionally, Wangerin's writing is a delight to the senses.
9) Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne
In this book, the author explores the important, even essential, doctrine of how we are joined with Christ. Christ is in us, we are in Christ, if we are believers. That is not just an obscure theological maxim, but a living truth that has significant implications for how we live. In fact, there may be fewer things more important than understanding this concept.
I particularly liked the third chapter, which explores "two songs playing in our heads". One song is the way of extravagant grace, the other the way of radical discipleship. I find myself drawn to both concepts. I love Brennan Manning and I love Dallas Willard. The author demonstrates that these are not mutually exclusive concepts.
8) Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
I found myself immediately engaged in this book. He writes of a modern faith that has somehow lost its sense of mystery and wonder, a supernatural faith stripped of the "super" and thus becoming mundane. He observes this trend and tells his readers "open your eyes!" I have been trying to communicate this message to fellow believers, and I don't know if the message ever lands. Often, I suspect I am regarded as either a religious nutjob, or simply as kooky. Honestly, I'm okay with those characterizations, but as someone has tasted supernatural wonder, I want to invite others to the same. God's kingdom is so much larger and more glorious than most people ever imagine, and I, like Mike Cosper, want to shout, "come and see! come and see!"
7) The Pastor's Justification by Jared Wilson
The Pastor's Justification is the first of two Wilson books on my list this year. In my review of this book, I noted that Wilson wields a twin blade of theological wisdom and a gift with words. Assuredly, his literary achievement is quite remarkable for anyone, much less someone of his age. If a person were interested in reading through all of an author's books, a worthwhile practice, Wilson would be a good person to consider. Although the title would suggest that this book is targeted to pastors, I think anyone who struggles with the burden of imperfection and who fails to recognize how amazing justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone really is would benefit from this book.
6) The Good and Beautiful series by James Bryan Smith
Smith wrote a series of three books--The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and the Good and Beautiful Community. Perhaps it is unfair to gather all of these together, but it's my list, so I won't apologize. As one might expect, the initial book in the series deals with the goodness and beauty of God, and then, through the other two, translates those ideas into the Christ life. Of the three, my favorite was The Good and Beautiful Life, which addresses character formation by exploring the Sermon on the Mount.
5) Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
The longer I live the Christian life, the more deeply I appreciate the ways in which some authors are able to connect real life with a life of worship on a deep level. As I look over my list of books for this year, this theme certainly presents itself. In this book, the author is able to connect things like eating meals and arguments with the church's liturgy, and does so with exceptional writing.
4) As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson
For people who know me, it is no surprise that Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite authors. I think I have read almost every book he has written though assuredly there are some lesser known volumes that I have not yet encountered. It is a large book by Christian non-fiction standards, 372 pages, consisting of a collection of Peterson's sermons. Initially, this was a disappointment to me, though once I dug in, I was pleasantly surprised. The overarching theme of Kingfishers was the call to congruence, a way of living life that consistently reflects the "with God-life". This is certainly a book I will revisit often.
3) The Jubilee by John Blase
I am fairly certain The Jubilee by John Blase is the only book of poetry I have ever included in my top 10. Although most of my books are shelved in my library in the basement, this book remains out on a display shelf in our living room, with the hope that someone will pick it up and read it. In my longer review in April, I wrote, "An unfortunate truth is that many people avoid poetry, finding it confusing, boring, or perhaps overly sentimental. As a poetry lover, I am never sure where to direct those who might have a spark of interest in poetry. Mary Oliver is certainly good and so is Wendell Berry, yet if I am to be honest, this might well be the first book I recommend now. It is both accessible and fosters wonder."
2) Love Big. Be Well. by Winn Collier
This book is unusual. It is a series of (fictional) letters written mostly by a pastor, Jonas McAnn, to his congregation. The skillful way in which Collier was able to map real life and real concerns onto a fictional church was remarkable. I found myself caring deeply about the folks in the letters.
1) The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
Undoubtedly, Jared Wilson is one of my favorite authors. Last year I commented that he was one of only two authors who had made my top 10 books list three times or more (the other was Jerry Bridges). As of this year, he stands alone as the author most featured, and with two books no less!
In this book, Wilson explored discipleship, but it read differently than most books on the topic. Even when writing about things we may do to grow in Christ, Wilson did not fail to shine a spotlight on God's graciousness. Although the whole book was excellent, this bit from chapter 9 brought me to tears. "When you are in the pit of suffering--on the verge of death, even--Jesus isn't up in heaven simply blasting you down below with some ethereal values. He's not 'sending good thoughts'--or worse, 'good vibes'--your way. No, when you are laid low in the dark well of despair, when the whole world seems to be crashing down on you, when your next breath seems sure to be your last, Christ Jesus is down in the void with you, holding you. He keeps your hand between his own. He offers his breast for your weary head. He whispers the words of comfort a whisker's breath from your ear: 'and behold, I am with you always.' Grace is all-sufficient for weakness and for suffering because Jesus is all-sufficient." I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
1) The Wingfeather Saga (technically 4 books) by Andrew Peterson
2) Living in Christ's Presence by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg
3) A Different Kind of Happiness by Larry Crabb
4) Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat
5) World Enough and Time by Christian McEwen
6) The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges
7) The Voice Bible by the Ecclesia Bible Society
8) The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
9) You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
10) Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller
1) Love Does by Bob Goff
2) The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard
3) The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
4) A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
5) A Loving Life by Paul Miller
6) Relational Soul by Rich Plass and Jim Cofield
7) Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson
8) Prodigal Church by Jared Wilson
9) The Solitary Tales by Travis Thrasher
10) hand in Hand: The beauty of God's sovereignty and meaningful human choice by Randy Alcorn
1) Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid
2) Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg
3) Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
4) The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund Jr.
5) Joy for the World by Greg Forster
6) Why Sin Matters by Mark McMinn
7) What's Best Next? by Matt Perman
8) Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
9) Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
10) Jesus Continued... by JD Greear
1) One Way Love by Tullian Tchvidjian
2) Grace in Addiction by John Z
3) Becoming a True Spiritual Community by Larry Crabb
4) Tale of the Toboggans by Christian Schmidt
5) Prodigal God by Tim Keller
*I only listed 5 in 2013 for some reason.
1) Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson
2) The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges
3) Not the Way Its Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
4) Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
5) Think Christianly by Jonathan Morrow
6) Gospel Wakenfulness by Jared Wilson
7) Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson
8) The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
9) Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch
**Nine? Why nine? What a weird number.
1) Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther
2) Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints by John Piper and Justin Taylor
3) Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
4) How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp
5) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
***Apparently in 2011, I didn't actually put out a list. Why? I am not sure. However, I went back through my list and here are some I would have recommended from that year. Luther on Galatians is an absolute must read for Christians, in my opinion.
1) Chosen by God by RC Sproul
2) The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
3) Ashamed of the Gospel by John McArthur
4) Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchvidjian
5) Confessions by St Augustine
6) The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
7) Spectacular Sins by John Piper
8) If God is Good by Randy Alcorn
9) Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson
10) Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham