Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “Of making many books there is no end.” Today, we might add, “Of the year-end list-making for books there is no end.” All such lists are faulty because they’re limited to both the list-makers preferences and the works they read (and didn’t read) in a given year. Nevertheless, I find such lists helpful in for pointing me to books I might have missed but might want to add to my ever-growing Amazon wishlist.
Below are a few of my favorites I read in 2017 (not necessarily published this year).
- 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
As I read the book I realized just how many ways my smartphone has changed my life (or me), some positive and some negative. The book isn’t a one-sided slam of smartphones warning against the evils of technology. It does, however, want you to be aware of how much your phone affects you. To use the language of Smith’s book (referenced below), it’s not merely that we do things with our phones, but that our phones do something to us because of our habits. For instance, one struggle voiced among Christians seeking to grow is how distracted they are—often due to smartphones and tablets—and yet few give thought to how they might use their phone differently to remedy that. The smartphone has changed life in our culture and it’s changing you. This book speaks to that reality with wisdom and balance.
- The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson
This book excels where so many books fall short. Wilson isn’t interested in keeping the Christian busy with new activities that will help them move up to the Varsity squad of disciples, nor does he get caught up in the machinery of discipleship as if it’s about packaging people on an assembly line (mix in a little discipline, a little doctrine, a good curriculum, a mentoring relationship, and then they should be good to go). It’s the only discipleship book I’ve come across where the focus isn’t on becoming a super-strong Christian but the focus is on how Jesus and his grace can be big in your weakness and imperfection. Many of the discipleship books I’ve read deal almost solely with the end-goal or the means, but they miss what we’ve been called to be and how that fleshes itself out in the life of someone who is simultaneously growing and failing (saint and sinner). The book includes sections with practical counsel for disciples, but overall, it’s more about the big picture of what the long journey of discipleship is: imperfect disciples striving to know, love, and follow a perfect Savior.
- You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
I read this book early in the year and have gone back to the well often. There are several thought-provoking ideas put forward, not all related. Smith warns evangelicals against the notion that we are thinking-things, or that knowledge itself changes us. It’s what we love, not what we know, that changes us. In fact, the things we love get ahold of us through our habits, so that our habits inform our loves which shapes who we are. While I think Smith overplays his argument and downplays the role of thinking and knowledge, his over-reaction might pull many of us in the right direction.
- Our Secular Age by The Gospel Coalition
I’ll admit it, I’ve never read Charles Taylor’s massive tome A Secular Age (though I have read and do recommend James K.A. Smith’s How Not to Be Secular.) But the good news is one need not be familiar with Taylor to benefit from this volume. Various contributors—many familiar faces from The Gospel Coalition—distill key aspects of Taylor’s philosophy and how it influences culture and the Church. The first three chapters weren’t my cup of tea, but I was soon rewarded for my perseverance as the subsequent chapters produced gems of insight for ministry in today’s climate and culture.
- Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
This past semester I taught on Spiritual Disciplines. This gave me the chance to flip through many old ones and read a couple new ones. Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder provides a different flavor to the menu on disciplines, many of which can feel the same. His familiarity with the church’s history, liturgies, practices, disciplines, and beliefs alongside his canny insights from culture, technology, and entertainment offer a unique window into how to pursue Christ today. If nothing else, get the book for the extended explanation on how to properly throw a feast.
- God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell
This wonderful children’s book came at just the right time. After listening to an African-American speak on issues tied to race, I asked him and another pastor for resources on how to talk to kids about God’s beautiful design in our diversity. Only a day or two later and I heard about this book. It illustrates God’s plan in making us different, and why that’s something to celebrate. Not only does Trillia help kids (and adults) better understand what it means that we are all image-bearers, but she does this in a wonderful biblical-theology covering the gamut of Scripture’s storyline. Not only is diversity a good idea, but so is our redemption.
- Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion by Richard Lints
The New Studies in Biblical Theology by IVP rivals Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life for best series. Now at 41 volumes, this series on biblical theology has benefited the Church in recent years with this series that can both speak to the seminarian in their study and the layman in their office chair. Lints’ book deals with related topics I find of great interest: identity, image, idolatry, and worship. Our identity is tied to and found in what we worship (God or idols), and this identity-idolatry dilemma shapes how we bear the image of God or invert the image of God.
- Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken
The American Church struggles with the idols of comfort and consumerism. They lead people to bounce from church to church, ministry to ministry, and group to group as they look for the thing that can meet their particular needs and give what they want. This book—greatly needed—attacks such consumerism and reveals how our demand for comfort keeps us away from healthy, biblical, longed-for community with God’s people. Some things in the book made me uncomfortable, but I guess with a title like that I shouldn’t expect otherwise.
- The Practice of Praise by C.H. Spurgeon and
- Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
These last two books are very different and yet very much related. Both books are theologically rich and yet push you to do something with what you’re reading. Both seek to cultivate gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise in the heart of their reader. Both should be read, and maybe one after the other.
- Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
I read this in 2016 with my wife and read it again this year. This barely inches out Jayber Crow for my favorite Wendell Berry novel, and might top my list of top fiction books. Family, love, loss, change, home, belonging, parenting, vocation, and much more come to life in one woman’s story. We feel the sting of her sorrow in an ever-changing world where values shift and we’re left in the dust.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale are both set in France during World War 2. If you like one, you’ll no doubt enjoy the other. Both give perspectives into the effects of war that are often ignored in movies and novels: children and women. The Nightingale was a harder read because of the specific sufferings of its characters, and yet its story jolts you with historical reminders of pain. All the Light We Cannot See has a unique form where it jumps back and forth between two people’s stories a couple pages at a time while moving you from the past to the present. I didn’t want to put it down…ever.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
I’ve read LWW before and will read it again. Each time is a treat. Subtle traits of each familiar character come to life. And Aslan—for me—remains the most remarkable character in any work of fiction.
- The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
Having been a fan of the A&E/Netflix show Longmire, I picked up book one from Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire stories. If you’ve watched Longmire, reading the book can catch you off guard at first. Most of the main characters feel different in the book, including Walt, and some are missing altogether. And yet, for Longmire fans, you’ll have enough familiarity with the people and places that you’ll soon enough feel at home in the book.
- Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick and
- Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose
Both books give insight into the spy-rings during the American Revolution in complementary ways. Because no one beats Nathaniel Philbrick in their ability to put history into a narrative, my top choice would be Valiant Ambition. I appreciated the nuanced portrayal of Benedict Arnold and what led to his betrayal. While Valiant Ambition focuses in on George Washington and Benedict Arnold, Washington’s Spies includes lesser-known but equally important characters. For fans of the TV show Turn, Washington’s Spies details the people and events connected with the Culper Ring.
- Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman
The 500-year anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door had to appear on this list somewhere. Carl Trueman offers an objective, balanced, insightful look at the theology and practice of Luther. Those familiar with this series by Crossway will not be disappointed with this welcome addition to the series.
- Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers
Mark Twain—Samuel Clemens—lived an adventurous life. His stories come from his own experiences, and the characters from those stories arise from people he loved and interacted with. But his biography also includes sorrow alongside the adventure as Twain is haunted by grief and guilt and driven by a need to prove himself financially. It’s a fascinating story of the man who changed American literature, as a humorist and a novelist.
- The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff
As detailed a book on the American Revolution as you’ll find, this 752-page tome informs as much as it intimidates. Beginning in 1763 and moving to 1789, Middlekauff’s book provides an outlined analysis of events, people, places while giving significant space to investigate causes and motives. If you’re an audiobook fan, this might be a good listen.