Best Books of 2017

Each year, I set myself a goal to read 52 books — one per week over the course of a year. I usually fall short of the goal; the last time I hit the mark was 2011. But it’s still the mark I shoot for each year.

When I finish up my current read this week, I’ll be at 40 books for the year. (For point of reference, I read 44 books in 2016.) Here are the best books I read in 2017. (If you’d like to see my lists from previous years, click here.)

  1. “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

    The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. This book has been a revelation for me this year, both personally and professionally. The Road Back to You was my introduction to the Enneagram, an ancient personality typing system aimed at increasing self-awareness by helping you understand your true self. I first read this book during a time of great emotional crisis last winter and it immediately proved invaluable, giving me the language I needed to fully understand what I was experiencing. But more importantly, Cron and Stabile walked me through some of my unhealthy tendencies based on my Enneagram type. Unlike most personality inventories, the Enneagram addresses who you are in various stages of health, pointing out your worst proclivities right alongside some of your best. I literally wept at times as I read this book. It was like looking into a mirror that reflected my truest identity. I know how dramatic that sounds…but it’s just true! The Road Back to You has helped me to understand the death of my father as perhaps the most formative event of my life…at least in terms of shaping my personality. This book is one of the best resources I’ve come across to facilitate honest self-reflection with the potential for spiritual transformation. The Road Back to You prompted me to do a deep dive on the Enneagram (I’ve read somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 additional pages on the Enneagram this year), but Cron and Stabile have written a highly accessible and practically grounded introduction to this tremendous self-discovery tool. I’ve given away more than a dozen copies this year and I plan to continue to do so in the years to come. Far and away the best book I’ve read this year.

  2. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown. Another book that hit me at just the right time. When Brené Brown talks about courageously facing the wilderness, I’m all ears. “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Brown writes with her trademark mix of insightful research and compelling narrative. A great read.
  3. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir by Neil White. I wrote a great deal about In the Sanctuary of Outcasts earlier this year — about White’s vision of sacred community and his conversation with Ella about repurposed Coke bottles. I could’ve written much more about this powerful reflection on hope and true human connection. I love this book!
  4. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion by N.T. Wright. Wright’s most recent work is rightly considered a companion piece to his outstanding Surprised by Hope. If you’re not familiar with Surprised by Hope, Wright argues that the Bible’s central message is NOT about escaping the earth to “fly away” to an ethereal heaven “when you die.” Rather, the biblical hope is centered on the in-breaking of the Kingdom NOW, heaven coming to earth in the way Jesus teaches us to pray (Matthew 6:10). In Revolution, Wright continues this line of thought by realigning our understanding of the cross within the overarching biblical motif of new exodus and new creation. This is an important book by the foremost NT scholar of our day.
  5. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis. I read this book against the backdrop of our summer vacation to Washington D.C. Ellis makes our founding fathers — revisioned here as founding brothers — both fascinating and accessible. A great read for the history buff.
  6. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by Andy Crouch. Crouch, the editor of Christianity Today, compellingly argues that strength and weakness are not necessarily opposed, but rather, they are twin polarities of true human flourishing. He calls us to think critically about both authority and vulnerability and the wise exertion / pursuit of each.
  7. Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman. This look back over Letterman’s storied broadcasting career was both nostalgic and unnerving.
  8. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, & Ella Morton. This book needs to be on your coffee table. These 450+ pages will remind you of both the beauty and wonder of the world we inhabit. From the front flap: “Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the most curious and unusual destinations around the globe. Here are natural wonders — the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher-like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils vault over rows of squirming infants.” And on it goes. Your bucket list just got a little bit longer.
  9. Do We Teach Another Gospel? by Jay Guin. This one is specifically written for members of churches of Christ. I’m still working on this one, so it may rise or fall by the time I finish. But you can download a free copy here if you’re interested. I’m about halfway through and I’m tracking with Guin. Of course, many will disagree with his conclusions, but you can’t criticize his methodology or his commitment to the biblical text.
  10. Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and Devils for Doubters and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck. Beck helps us recover just a bit of our enchantment with this profound work on the nature of spiritual warfare.
  11. Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past by David H. Stern. I continue to be challenged by Stern’s writings. If you don’t have a copy of his Jewish New Testament Commentary, you’re missing out.
  12. The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher L. Heuertz. Yet another Enneagram text I read this year. A deeper examination, I would recommend reading The Road Back to You first.
  13. The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary by Jonathan T. Pennington. Pennington’s argument is right there in the title — the Sermon on the Mount holds the key to more than simply “blessedness” (as our translations render the Beatitudes); rather, Jesus opens up a life of true human flourishing with his call to radical discipleship.
  14. Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John by Randy Harris and Greg Taylor. A great examination of the Gospel of John’s call to “faith in” Jesus Christ.
  15. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller. Keller’s work on work is a standout.

 

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