As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd list my top five books of the year. These are books I read this year, not necessarily books published this year.
1. Center Church by Tim Keller. Every pastor and every person pursuing vocational ministry, should read this book. It is hard to describe, in some ways more of a textbook than a traditional work. It is long. However, it is overflowing with insights. I could write a dozen blog posts about different realizations Keller helped me name, ranging from how we engage with culture to how we structure the church and pursue discipleship to how we think about issues like worship and evangelism.
2. The Gospel Comes With A Housekey by Rosaria Butterfield. A beautiful and provocative exploration of a Christian calling to radical hospitality. Butterfield weaves their family's story and her own thoughts into a compelling portrait of what it would look like if we truly sought to use our homes as outposts of the kingdom of heaven rather than treating them as fortresses meant to protect our selfish solitude. It is a book meant to provoke thought more than to give a road map - I certainly don't agree with all of her arguments. However, it challenged me and helped me to imagine a better way to live as a part of the community of faith.
3. In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador. Admission of bias up front: Jake is a good friend. Also, just like with Butterfield, I don't agree with all of his arguments. However, he offers a compelling vision of the breakdown of the "common good" in 21st-century America, leaving us with a society of loneliness and tribalism. The best part is his practical suggestions, which for a book about politics and culture are surprisingly practical for everyday Christian living.
4. Dignity by Chris Arnade. An incredibly powerful book about Arnade's sojourn among the least of these across America. From New York to Appalachia, from McDonalds parking lots to storefront pentecostal churches, this is an attempt to paint a portrait of poverty in America and it is incredibly compelling and thought-provoking. Two things stand out about this book. One is the photographs - beautiful, haunting, at times tragic. I wouldn't have found the book nearly as moving without these human faces. The second is the simple fact that Arnade spent enough time with these people to move beyond the simplistic answers often given to these issues. He understands the deep-seated search for dignity that drives their struggles, and he helped me understand it as well.
5. Deep Work by Cal Newport. While not a book that will be useful for everyone, Newport's core insights are transformative for those whose work includes significant elements of knowledge or creativity. In essence, his case is that we need to recognize the difference between "shallow work" (the necessary but surface-level work of meetings, emails and administrative tasks) and "deep work" (solving problems, creating content, and other focused tasks) and then restructure our days into periods that are explicitly devoted to each task. I've reworked how I approach my daily schedule as a result of this book.