I’m a little disappointed in my reading output this year. Each year, i set a goal for myself of reading one book a week. Even though I fell woefully short of 52 books (by the time I finish my current read, I’ll be at 30), I still came across some great books this year. I also spent a lot of time re-reading some of my favorites from years gone by; the cream of the re-read crop is included in this list as well. These are the 12 best books I read this year:
1. Richard Stearns – The Hole in our Gospel
Stearns, a former corporate CEO and current President of World Vision argues for a holistic gospel that most evangelical Christians fail to emphasize, a gospel of good news for the poor, the orphaned, and the forgotten. By asking the question “What does God expect of us?”, Stearns presents a whole gospel that moves us beyond altar call “pie in the sky by and by” forms of Christianity to a vibrant engagement with the world to bring the Kingdom of God to the here and now. No other book I read this year ate my lunch more than this one; even more, no book prompted me to take action in the name of Christ quite like The Hole in our Gospel. Reader beware.
2. Rob Bell – Jesus Wants to Save Christians
Bell has a real gift for situating the Old Testament’s story of Israel in a way that has relevance and resonance for today. But he also writes a word to challenge today’s church to answer the call to be a light to the world, to actively participate in the ministry of Jesus to bring healing to the nations. He also does a great job of articulating the New Exodus theme that is woven throughout the Biblical narrative. A great read.
3. Eugene Peterson – The Jesus Way
I’ve been reading Peterson’s series on spiritual theology for a couple of years now, so it’s no surprise that this text — his examination on the way in which Jesus is “the Way” — makes my list. Peterson has such a gift for language, but his exegetical prowess is also considerable; I found his contextualization of several key OT figures (Abraham, Elijah, Isaiah, etc.) to be incredibly insightful.
4. Steve Stockman – Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2
I’ve long been drawn to the music of U2. The simmering spirituality of “Where the Streets Have No Name”; the existential angst of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”; the boundless hope of “Walk On” — U2 has a way of blurring the traditional demarcations of sacred and secular. Stockman, writing as a fan on behalf of fans, peels back the music and lyrics to take his readers to a deeper place, the bedrock convictions that drive both Bono’s social activism and the band’s demonstration of “market place faith”. I read this one in anticipation of the concert in October; even though I didn’t make it to the show, this was still a great read.
5. Clarence Jordan – The Sermon on the Mount
I’ve read several great texts on the Sermon on the Mount this year (including a re-read of Glen Stassen’s excellent commentary Living the Sermon on the Mount), but Jordan’s simple, concise material has been absolutely incredible. His scholarship is only enhanced by his ethos; I know Jordan lived what he preached. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.
6. George Robinson – Essential Judaism
I’ve long been fascinated by the Hebrew scriptures and customs. This year, I set out to immerse myself in a deeper understanding of the Jewish faith, both ancient and contemporary. This text was a fascinating read that gave me a greater sense of appreciation for the customs, rituals, beliefs, and narratives of the Jewish faith.
7. Donald Miller – Searching for God Knows What
I picked this one off my shelf a week ago, thinking I’d read it a few years ago. Turns out I was wrong; I’ve never read it. I did read Blue Like Jazz a few years back and loved it, but somehow I missed this one entirely. Miller just has a way of communicating that really resonates with me.
8. Randy Harris – God Work
Harris, professor of theology and ethics at Abilene Christian University, was one of my teachers in my undergraduate days at Lipscomb. Known throughout churches of Christ for his quick wit and a gift for thoughtful expression, Harris has collected some of his more recent sermons / teachings in written form under the title God Work. The attempt to make theology accessible to the masses is one that I deeply appreciate. I couldn’t help but both laugh and reflect as I read this great little book.
9. Joseph J. Ellis – Founding Brothers
I’ve become something of an American history nut in the past year or two, so it was no surprise that I was able to devour Ellis’ examination of the ordinariness of the interconnections between the extraordinary men of the Revolutionary period: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Hamilton, Burr, Franklin. Ellis has a gift for taking these mythical, historic figures from our collective consciousness and making them imminently human to us. If you love American history, you’ll love this book.
10. N.T. Wright – Simply Christian (re-read; originally read in 2006)
I put the re-reads here so as to distinguish between the “first timers”. This is sure to go down as one of this decade’s classic Christian texts. Wright does away with the “insider language” that corrupts so much of Christendom’s jargon and expresses the faith in beautifully evocative terms. This would be a great book to offer a seeker looking for an explanation of Christian faith and doctrine. Simple, concise, profound…Wright has given us a treasure in Simply Christian.
11. Sam Walker – Fantasyland (re-read; originally read in 2006)
Each summer, I read a baseball-related book. This year, I decided to re-read one of my favorites from a few years back, Fantasyland. To say this is a baseball book, though, is something of a misnomer; it’s actually a fantasy baseball book. The only thing geekier than playing fantasy baseball is reading books about fantasy baseball. Or re-reading them. Anyway, it was just as lively, hilarious, and endearing the second time around as it was back in 2006 when I first read it.
12. Eugene Peterson – Christ Plays in 10,000 Places (re-read; originally read in 2008)
It says something that as soon as I finished this text, I flipped back to the first page and instantly began re-reading it. Peterson’s book makes my ’09 list for myriad reasons: his eloquent articulation, his detailed exegesis of some of Scripture’s paradigmatic texts (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, John, Mark, Luke / Acts), and the anecdotal material he deftly weaves into his writing. But what I most appreciated about this work was its pastoral tone. It really blessed me at a time when I needed it the most. And that’s the norm, rather than the exception, when I read Peterson.