Time for my annual list of best books I’ve read this year. (To access my previous “best books” lists, click here.)
Each year I set out with a goal to read 52 books — one per week. Admittedly, that’s an ambitious goal and I usually fall short (with the exception of 2011). By the time I wrap up my current read, I’ll be at 44 for the year. So close! I seriously considered plowing through a couple of Dr. Seuss books just to pad my number.
In the course of that reading, some texts stand out more than others. This year, I had difficulty narrowing my list down. Here are the most meaningful books I read in 2016:
- The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, Anonymous.
Written by an anonymous 19th century Russian peasant, this book explores the biblical instruction to pray without ceasing. Part spiritual memoir / part prayer journal, The Way of the Pilgrim is a field guide for the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” A good friend sent me a copy for my birthday; I finished it in two days. Outside of the Psalms, no other text has so dramatically impacted my prayer life. Hands down the best book I’ve read this year.
- Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost. Texts on missional theology abound. What we’re lacking, however, are helpful texts on missional living. Enter Frost’s Surprise the World, a fantastically practical primer on the life that bears witness to the Kingdom. Based on Simon Peter’s contention that believers should be ready to give an answer to those who ask about their hope (1 Pet. 3:15), Frost contends that Christians should live “questionable” lives. Frost offers five practices that are sure to evoke these kinds of queries. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of missional ideology.
- The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. I’ve owned a copy of Ware’s The Orthodox Way for several years but I only got around to reading it in November. Of the many things I loved about this text, I’m most grateful for Ware’s recognition of the mysteries of the Christian faith — a point often lost on those of us in the West. This was probably the most highlighted book in my Kindle app this year.
- City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. Fans have been waiting on Cronin’s conclusion to his Passage series for years. City of Mirrors was definitely worth the wait. Not only does Cronin wrap up his ensemble saga in extremely satisfying fashion, he pulls off the rare feat of creating a work of fiction that makes me think about my life.
- Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. It’s no accident that I found myself reading this theological treatment of the book of Lamentations this year. 2016 has been a year filled with lament and Soong-Chan Rah’s fabulous text has helped me find my own voice in these troubled times. This is not recommended for the “faint of heart” but I love Rah’s insistence that we make room for lament around the liturgical table. Of particular interest to Rah is the current racial tension in the United States (this text was published in 2015 and includes an epilogue entitled “Ferguson).
- A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story by Michael Goheen. Some will push back from the use of the term “missional” as the latest buzzword trend in hipster Christian culture. But Goheen roots missional theology firmly in the biblical narrative as the epic movement of God to redeem His fallen creation. I also recommend Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture (my favorite book of 2012) which he co-authored with Craig Bartholomew.
- Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell D. Moore. Moore is emerging as an important voice within the shifting tectonic plates of American evangelicalism, a wise voice who “gets” cultural sensitivity while maintaining faithfulness to the biblical witness. I can’t say I loved every point he makes here, but that’s not the point. I can say that I was thoroughly challenged by every page of this bold text.
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. This will likely go down as one of the most important books of 2016, at least in terms of capturing a snapshot of a certain subset of the American public. Others have written more poignant reviews of this book, so I won’t even bother, other than to say I was deeply moved by its reading. Timely, compelling, and honest.
- Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel by David H. Stern. Stern, a Messianic Jew, came onto my radar earlier in the year for his translation, The Complete Jewish Bible. But in this quick but insightful read, Stern takes a chainsaw to the Christian church’s too-easy Replacement theology. A really challenging and informative read.
- Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann. In our culture of relentless consumption, achievement, and labor, Brueggemann argues for a regular practice of Sabbath as God’s gracious invitation to break this vicious cycle. Rather than acquiescing to the culture of “now”, regular Sabbath allows us a subversively faithful response: no! I needed this read much as I needed Heschel’s work last year.
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. A fantastic novel.
- The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. I can’t believe I’m ranking this book this low. It’s a testament to the quality of books I’ve read this year. Moore writes a gripping and true account of the seemingly minor events and decisions that forever alter the course of our lives.
- Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle. Each year, some sort of political / historical read ends up on my list. Von Drehle’s work is this year’s entry.
- Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. One review calls this text an “accessible, actionable ethics primer.” That’s a good description. Some it might seem moot now that the election season is in the rearview mirror, but nevertheless, a solid read.
- Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. Parents of teen and pre-teen girls need to read this book. Some of what I read really challenged my parenting practices; other sections simply mortified me. But this is essential reading for parents of teens.
Honorable mentions: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; The Arm by Jeff Passan; Planted in the House of the Lord by Joseph Shulam.