Four the fourth year running, I’ve taken some time to boil down the books I’ve read over the past year into a manageable list of favorites. As with previous years (see 2010, 2011, and 2012), I’m including not only books that were actually published this year, but the best of all the books I actually read during this time, whether they were hot off the presses or published as far back as the fifth century.
As with all such lists, whether their compilers come right out and say so or not, what you see here is completely and unashamedly subjective. Also, these titles don’t necessarily appear in order, though I’ve saved my “book of the year” for last. But no skipping ahead!
Without further ado, my list of favorites:
Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions
by Anthony Bradley, editor (P&R Publishing)
When the majority of us gather for church each Sunday, the issue of race is still a big elephant in the room. As the demographics of our communities continue to change, the demographics of our churches and parachurch ministries often lag significantly behind. And nowhere is this clearer than in the top positions of leadership in these various institutions. This important compiled volume features essays from the perspectives of African American, Asian American, and Latino pastors, academics, and ministry leaders. As a white Christian male, I have much to learn from brothers and sisters like these.
The City of God
by St. Augustine of Hippo (Random House)
Reading this was without a doubt my one big literary accomplishment of the year. I started reading it on January 2 and finally found myself on the final page the Sunday before Advent, drinking one of these. Reading it was largely a slog, but finishing it was, I imagine, akin to the feeling of completing a marathon; you don’t hear people at the finish line complain of having wasted their time.
Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works
by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic)
Like Desiring The Kingdom before it, the second installation in the groundbreaking Cultural Liturgies series from Smith was a gimme to include on my favorites list, though also one I knew better than to attempt to properly review. An honorable mention is also in order for Smith’s collection of previously published essays, Discipleship in the Present Tense.
In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity
by Jim Belcher (InterVarsity Press)
I reviewed this one just a few weeks ago, at which time I wrote, “Part spiritual memoir, part history, part travel writing, I absolutely love how he weaves it all together.” It really is a profound, unforgettable book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
by Jeremy Courtney (Howard Books)
The author, along with his family and colleagues, are out to “love first and ask questions later” in Iraq, a place where doing so is, to say the least, quite risky. This book chronicles what has happened along the way, and as you’d imagine, the stories are riveting, often traumatic, and sometimes even funny.
A Land Without Sin: A Novel
by Paula Huston (Slant Books)
While reading this novel set in Guatemala and Mexico in the early- to mid-90s, I tweeted, “Religion. Politics. Mystery. Latin America. What’s not to love?” Paula Huston is a masterful storyteller, and this novel is truly captivating from start to finish.
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
by Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
I’ve noticed this one popping up on “best of” lists all over the place, and rightly so. Wiman is an acclaimed poet and for the past decade he served as editor of the prestigious Poetry magazine. Wiman is a believer, though he admits he’s not a believer of the historic orthodox sort. Writing in the face of death, his theological musings and desperate yearning for a new kind of religious language are deeply stirring.
The World Is Not Ours To Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good
by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (InterVarsity Press)
If a book like this were written by a pietist, issuing a blanket warning against activism itself, it would be all too predictable, and wouldn’t be on this list. But the fact that it’s written by a Christian activist—coupled with the fact that it’s penetrating, pastoral, and personal—makes it one of the most important books of the year. The world is not ours to save, argues Wigg-Stevenson, and this is very good news. It’s a message my generation desperately needs to hear.
Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
by Miroslav Volf (Abingdon Press)
I’ve long admired and appreciated Miroslav Volf, and included A Public Faith on last year’s list. I finally got around to reading what is probably his most well-known work this year. My reading of it coincided with our visit to Guatemala, which I’d venture to suggest helped me imagine a bit of the gravitas of Volf’s formative experiences in the former Yugoslavia, which shaped his outlook and, in turn, the provocative arguments in this book.
And The Mountains Echoed: A Novel
by Khaled Hosseni (Riverhead)
While this probably isn’t Hosseini’s best work (I’d reserve that honor for A Thousand Splendid Suns), it is nonetheless a wonderful novel that continues to demonstrate his knack for telling stories that capture the heights and depths of human emotion, in this case across both space and time. It was a pleasure meeting the author and getting our copy signed, at a reading event put together by great folks at Changing Hands, the independent bookstore in our neighborhood.
Playing God: Redeeming The Gift of Power
by Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press)
Ladies and gentlemen, my book of the year. I’ve said a lot about it elsewhere, so I won’t regurgitate it all here. In addition to my review in the winter issue of PRISM, I shared some thoughts on the idea of benevolent and malevolent gods, and had this to say on “the restoration of the human capacity to bear the image in all its fullness.” If you’re reading this, you’re a person with far more power than you realize, and it can be used for good or for bad. Please read this book.
Thanks to all of you who have faithfully read my reviews this year. I can’t wait for what’s to come in 2014!