Best Books of 2012

Every year, I set a goal to read at least 52 books — one per week for an entire calendar year. 2011 marked the first year I’d ever completed that goal. This year, I fell a bit short. By the time I finish the book I’m currently reading, I’ll only be at 42 for the year. Yes, I know…I am a colossal failure. In my defense, I read several books that were super long this year. But that probably sounds like an excuse. Whatever.

Still, I came across some great books in 2012. This list comprises the best of the best. Of course, very few of these are 2012 releases. Rather, these are books I’ve read this year that have really impacted me. As you can tell from the list, I don’t read very much fiction; I’m more of a non-fiction guy. Since I’m always looking for book suggestions, I’d love to hear your reading suggestions. Now, on to the list:

  1. The Drama of Scripture by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.

    This is far and away the best, most important book I’ve read this year. Narrative theology has greatly interested me for the past several years. Recommended by a trusted professor, Bartholomew & Goheen’s text proved to be a foundational read. I’ve not come across a more accessibly thorough (or thoroughly accessible!) account of the narrative arc of scripture. This one is worthy of a slow, measured read. You’ll want to take notes you can pour over later.

    The gift of this book is a priceless one: a presentation of the biblical story of redemption as a unified, coherent narrative of God’s ongoing work within his kingdom. In the end, this is the only story that matters.

    (For more information, visit the website.)

  2. A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I’m a huge fan of Miller and this, I believe, is his finest work. Written as he works to edit his life’s story into a screenplay, A Million Miles brims with wisdom, joy, heartache, and — like any good story does — transformative relationship. Given how much I’ve been reading on story lately, this one was probably a no-brainer for this list. I love this book.
  3. Culture Making by Andy Crouch.

    I grew up in the swirl of the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 90s. As a result, I love a love / hate relationship with culture. I was simultaneously influenced by it while learning to be wary of its siren song. In particular, the adversarial relationship between culture and faith that was presented to me continues to haunt me, even now.

    Crouch’s seminal work is an exercise in biblical theology predicated on the impulse to reclaim the cultural mandate to be the creative cultivators that God designed us to be. Rather than condemning culture or merely consuming it, Crouch recovers the deeply biblical call for God’s people to be creators of culture. In so doing, we offer a redemptive word to a long misguided discussion. A great, engaging work.

    (For more information, visit the website.)

  4. The Stand by Stephen King.I’m not a big fiction reader. Mainly because I find most fiction to be poorly written and really boring. Nonfiction is just so much more compelling. That being said, I’ll occasionally find a piece of fiction that grabs me. (Like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, my favorite piece of fiction.) I’d heard the producers of LOST rave about King’s “The Stand” for years and I decided to tackle it. All 900+ pages. I have to say, it was a bit slow-going in the beginning, but at the 150 page mark, the book just took off. As with most of King’s work, there are a few places where the content gets a bit graphic for my tastes. But this post-apocalyptic tale of survival just drew me in. And I’m convinced Josh Holloway would make a great Stu Redman. A great read.
  5. Dream Team by Jack McCallumI picked up a copy of this after reading an excerpt in Sports Illustrated this summer. McCallum’s chronicle of the ’92 Dream Team is absolutely engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable. And I’m not even that much of an NBA fan.
  6. I Am A Follower by Leonard Sweet.“Following is the most underrated form of leadership in existence.” As a doctoral student in a program that focuses on “ministerial leadership in congregational settings”, I have been exposed to plenty of leadership literature in the last year or two. And I would have to agree with Sweet’s assessment. But this little treatise reconfigures the conversation with an essential turn: How can we become better followers? After all, Jesus isn’t looking for leaders; He’s looking for followers. This is one of the more intriguing and challenging reads I’ve come across this year.
  7. Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
    A fascinating read of the intricacies of the 2008 Presidential election: the surprising rise of Barack Obama and his bitter fight with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket; the scandal of John Edwards’ campaign; John McCain’s “maverick” selection of a relatively unknown governor as his running mate. Even handed, insightful, and most of all, just downright entertaining.
  8. Being As Communion by John Zizoulas. Communion — the hallmark of God’s inter-Trinitarian nature — grounds our being. In fact, we are beings created for communion. Zizoulas’ work is probably the most dense of any of the other books on this list, but the rewards make the tough plowing worthwhile. This work helped build on the theological framework that was put in place for me when I read Stanley Grenz a few years ago.
  9. The Beginning and the End by Michael W. Pahl. A short little exercise in narrative theology, specifically focusing on the opening chapters of Genesis and the concluding chapters of Revelation. Simply fascinating.
  10. You Lost Me by Dave Kinnaman
  11. The Next Christians by Gabe LyonsI pair Kinnaman and Lyons together because they are twin voices in an ongoing discussion. If you’re interested in what an emerging generation is saying and thinking with regard to their faith, I encourage you to read these books. But a word of warning is in order: you may not like what you find, at least not at first. The portrayal of the church isn’t very flattering here, but I believe there is much truth to what is written here. Whereas Kinnaman is interested in why our young people are leaving the institutional church in droves, Lyons helps us understand that they have not abandoned the faith…at least not yet.
  12. Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette Scandrette’s commitment to the words of Christ as rule of life is both inspiring and challenging. I’m most excited that some of our life groups at church are using this text as a spring board for their own “experiments in following Jesus, the Master Dojo”.
  13. The Living Word of God by Ben Witherington III.Witherington is the rare scholar with a gift for making academia accessible to the masses. This work gives me an even greater appreciation for our sacred texts.
  14. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.It’s passé to hate the ending to Collins’ Hunger Games series, but this one was actually my favorite. I read the entire series this year and I don’t understand the phenomenon. I don’t think this series is nearly as compelling as everyone wants to believe. But I think Collins IS trying to make a statement about the consequences of our cultural obsession with violence, which is important.
  15. Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy
    This year’s baseball read, a biography of the greatest left-handed pitcher of all-time. Even now, years later, he remains an enigma, a poetic, mythical creature. We’re left to wonder what might have been, which only fuels this story’s allure. Leavy is one of the best. I hope to find time to read through her bio of the Mick next.

So there you have my list. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading this year that’s been interesting to you.

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