Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The 5 Best Books (I Read) in 2017

Reading is, for me, an essential part both of thinking and of walking with Jesus. That doesn't mean everyone has to do it, and certainly not as much as me, but it is something I think many Christians could benefit from doing more. With that in mind, here are what I would consider the five most recommendable books I've read (NOT that were published) this year. If your New Years resolutions involve reading more, or if you've got some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, these all come highly recommended, at least by me.

5. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore. In an age that is deeply politicized, this is an extremely helpful book. It's kind of an open secret that I'm uncomfortable with how some of my fellow evangelicals relate to politics, not so much in the details as in the big picture. Moore, while he and I would differ on some of the specifics, is a wonderful example of having the priorities (Christ and His kingdom) and the methodology (faith instead of fear, hope and love instead of hatred) that I think the church, and the world, desperately needs. If cultural engagement and politics are your cup of tea and you haven't read much of the theological discussions behind them, Moore's book is a great place to start.

4. The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World, David Murray. I cannot recommend this book without stressing how much I expected to hate it. When I see someone reading a self-help book, or one on positive thinking, my immediate instinct is to try to sell them that bridge I own in New York City. Christian self-help books are even worse - I instinctively assume they'll be shelved someday in that deep circle of hell reserved for hucksters making a buck off of Jesus's name.

I say all of that to stress that, when I say I really appreciated this book, it means something. Murray explores our call to joy in ways that are practical but constantly biblical. I came away from it marveling at the way he walks a tight rope I constantly expected him to topple from. I also came away with my natural cynicism properly challenged and with some helpful rhythms to incorporate into daily life.



3. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Tish Harrison Warren. I have read this book twice this year, once in two days and then again more slowly. Warren is a great writer, turning all her skill with words into exploring the ordinary rhythms of life and connecting them both to spiritual realities and to sacred practices. She comes from a world of high-church Anglicanism which will seem foreign to some, but this was the kind of book that both made me reflect on various elements of my life and challenged me to view them with new eyes. Also, she manages to be funny and engaging. If I were to recommend a "book club" type book from the year, this would be it.

2. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt. Not an explicitly religious book, but an incredibly helpful one. An exploration of what Haidt calls "moral psychology," it seeks to make sense of our different moral instincts and intuitions in a way that both helps us name things we feel and recognize how that differs from others. It isn't a perfect book - it spends far too many pages chasing dubious evolutionary "just-so" stories that I didn't find very philosophically or scientifically persuasive - but what it succeeds at, it brings in spades. I came away from this book feeling enlightened about conflicting instincts I have when I think about morality and a much better sense of how others process the world as well. If you're interested in something heavy and thought-provoking, Haidt certainly was that for me.

1. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, Tim Keller. I have long felt like someone needed to write a book explaining Christianity to the secular person. Not defending it, exactly - there are lots of books that set out to do that - but just articulating why it makes sense and is worth thinking about. The inestimable Tim Keller draws on years of talking with such people to write just such a book, and it is really fantastic. I listened to it as an audio book, was so impressed that I went and bought a hard copy which I then re-read, highlighting almost every page. I'll be returning to this book again, probably teaching a class from it, and recommending it to all kinds of folks.

I'll just leave you with a summary quote: "[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death."

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