If you’re at all familiar with the idea of “love languages” (how a person communicates or receives love), then you should know that my love language is Books—and possibly sarcasm. I love books. I could wander through Half-Price Books for hours and not get bored. I like hearing about what others are reading, recommending or giving books that I think someone might enjoy, and I—of course—love reading books.
Maybe you’re a book-lover, or at least friends with one. If you are, you might now be thinking about books to give away at Christmas or what your 2017 reading list might look like. If it’s of any use, I thought I’d mention some of the best books I’ve read this year(ish). I’m always on the lookout for new books, so feel free to leave a comment with your own recommendations.
I’ll provide two lists: “Christian” and “Other.” Those labels are terrible, I know, but I’m merely conveying that the first list is directly intended to help you grow as a Christian while the latter might have another primary purpose. They are not in any particular order (sorry), and I limited myself to 10 books for each list.
- John Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke
While it’s true this list isn’t in any particular order, this would probably be the best book I’ve read in the last year (or so). The series as a whole is commendable, but this is the one I’ve been the most helped by (second would be Edwards on the Christian Life). Don’t think of these as biographies, but as a summary of significant aspects of the Christian Life by key heroes of our church’s history.
- Supernatural People by Ray Ortlund
This book focuses on the great chapter of Romans 8. I find myself wanting to read or listen to anything by Ray Ortlund. He possesses the rare combination of gospel-centrality and robust-theology alongside gentleness and humility.
- The Gospel by Ray Ortlund
Part of the 9marks series, this work unpacks the gospel in simple but still astounding ways. He wants our grasp of gospel doctrine to culminate in a gospel-culture.
- Rejoicing in Christ by Mike Reeves.
The name “Mike Reeves” might not stand out to you like Piper, Ortlund, or Tripp, but this is a book everyone should own. This is the exact kind of book I need because it repeatedly casts my eyes on Jesus so that my joy might be in him…and be full.
- God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants by Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry.
This “mini” version of Kingdom through Covenant would provide any reader with a helpful summary of key themes and structures through the Bible. It might be a challenge for some, but it is definitely readable and would be worth the work.
- Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings.
Early in 2016 our church did a series on Lament. There aren’t many books written on lament or lamenting, but of the ones available I thought this was the best. The book is partly an investigation of the theme of lament and partly a record of the author’s own experience of lament as he walked through cancer.
- Side by Side by Ed Welch
Put this next to the other must-read books from CCEF (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands; How People Change; etc.). Side by Side is short, simple, and to the point. Usually books like that are to be read all at once, but this one is worth reading a chapter at a time so that you can live it out a chapter at a time. If you want to live in biblical community, care for others, and be loved by others then give it a read.
- The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield
There are so many reasons to read Rosaria Butterfield. As a former feminist and lesbian professor who became gripped and changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, she is able to speak with wisdom and empathy to groups that often speak past one another. Read her story first (The Secret Thoughts…) and then follow it up with Openness Unhindered to better understand what it means to root our identity and growth in Jesus.
- What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp
If you’ve been married for any length of time then this would be a good book. Marriage is a great context for conflict because you have two sinful people living together and (often) fighting for their own kingdom. This book is a reminder that Christians in marriage should first and foremost live for God’s kingdom, which ends up having dramatic effects on our life and marriage.
- Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by Gregg Allison
Allison is a Protestant theologian and professor raised as a Catholic. In this book, he tries to be fair and balanced by showing where Protestants and Catholics agree and where they disagree when it comes to major doctrines and practices of the Church. It’s a very helpful read that was charitable in its approach.
- Wendell Berry’s Port William series
Last winter I started reading some of Wendell Berry’s novels in the Port William series. I’ll be honest, I was hooked. I read and/or listened to every one of the Port William series books (around 10 of them). They certainly are not action-packed books. But, they are beautiful stories of everyday people living out their everyday life in the context of community, memories and stories, relationships, work, place, sorrow, and joy. If you like to read books that feel like movies, then Berry isn’t for you. If you like to read books that feel like “normal life,” then I’d say give him a read. My favorites were Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, The Memory of Old Jack, and A Place on Earth.
- The Man Called Cash by Steve Turner
This biography of Johnny Cash follows the rocky, spiritual journey of Johnny Cash. Cash’s faith—much like his whole life—is interesting, confusing, and all over the place. I find “the man in black” fascinating and enjoyed seeing him through a different lens.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass is one of my favorite characters from America’s story. His story is powerful and the words he wrote and spoke are gripping. This autobiography recounts the grim details of life as a slave (and former slave) as well as the opportunities opened up to him as an ex-slave. To get a taste of how moving Douglass’ writings are, read his July 4th speech or these quotes I’ve posted in the past.
- American Colonial History by Thomas Kidd
I try to read anything Thomas Kidd writes. As someone especially interested in both church history and American history, Kidd combines both in his works on religious history in America. This textbook on the beginning part of America’s story tells an often neglected part of our nation’s history, one that needs to be remembered not just because of how formative it was but because how much there is to learn from (often through embarrassing and tragic examples).
- American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger
This book was sort of the opposite of reading a Wendell Berry novel. Unger’s work was fast-paced, action-packed, and often felt like an episode of Turn or Sons of Liberty. It retells the story of the Boston Tea Party and the context in which it took place. If you think “dry” when you think of “history,” then I’d say read this book and your perspective might quickly change.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
My wife and I have started reading through this series again. It really is a classic. As Lewis says, these aren’t “Christian allegories” but they certainly convey Christian truths. If you’ve been a Christian for a while then read this series and maybe some of the “old truths” will hit you in new ways through the form of story.
- Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck has long been one of my favorite English authors, though many struggle with his dark view of people and our world. This book is quite different from anything else of Steinbeck. It’s an amusing account of Steinbeck trekking across America with his dog, Charley.
- Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life by Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens
This is a “readers guide” to Wendell Berry. These two Christian professors have tried to mine Berry’s essays, novels, poetry, speeches, and books to synthesize some of his key ideas. While there were things missing I would have wanted to know more about, if you enjoy reading Wendell Berry this book might be a though-provoking companion.
- Anne Bradstreet by Stephen Nichols
I was bummed to hear this biographical series will not continue. I’ve enjoyed a number of these “Guided Tours” in the life and thoughts of Christian figures from the past. Anne Bradstreet sailed to Boston aboard the famous ship—the Arabella or Arbella—with John Winthrop and other like-minded Puritans. They came to be the “city on a hill.” Bradstreet was the first female poet published in England or the New World she lived in. I’d recommend reading this book alongside reading her poems.
- Anything by America’s Test Kitchen
I included this one as a nod to America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). My wife and I bought a number of their books this year and have found ATK to be our go-to resource for cooking or baking. If you want any book on the subject of preparing food, start with America’s Test Kitchen.