Category Archives: Best Books of Year

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: 2017

Yes, many do these sorts of things, but I like book lists, so here you go:

Image result for Strangers in a strange land chaput

There are many things to like about this book, no matter which one of the big three traditions (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) you belong to.

Chaput is a lucid writer who has clearly done his homework. His book ranges over many significant thinkers, past and present. His analysis of our cultural moment is sobering, but never gloomy. He well understands the indispensable virtue of Christian hope.

I read Dreher’s The Benedict Option, but find Chaput’s approach much more in keeping with the entire record of Scripture.

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https://www.amazon.com/How-Think-Survival-Guide-World/dp/0451499603

My interview with Alan Jacobs:

HOW TO THINK: INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JACOBS

Image result for Jill Lepore on jane franklin

I’ve read several books on Benjamin Franklin, but this is the first on his sister.

Lepore brings all the things we have to expect from her writing, especially the telling detail.

Yes, it’s true. Women in the eighteenth century were discouraged from reading history. What’s the point? History reading is for those who serve in political and educational leadership. Since women couldn’t do those sorts of things in colonial America, what’s the point in them reading history? For a Christian this crass utilitarian notion of learning history is at odds with a faith that is historical in nature.

There are many terrific insights in this wonderfully conceived book.

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My interview with the author:
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https://www.amazon.com/American-Revolution-History-Library-Chronicles/dp/0812970411

My general rule that so far holds up is this: Take the total number of pages of a book and divide by two. If my marginal notes exceed that number, then the book, though I may have some serious disagreements with it, was worth reading.

In this case, Wood’s little book on the American Revolution is 166 pages long. My markings came in at over 150. This was an extremely worthwhile read.

I read a lot of American history, but am always looking for resources to better connect events and people. Wood’s book does not disappoint.

If you are looking for a short book to better understand the American Revolution along with a helpful explanation of the immediate years leading up to the Constitution, it is hard to imagine a better book.

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The modern notion of “politics” is much narrower than the ancient one. The modern idea thinks mainly of things like voting, lobbying for favorite causes, and those who govern.

Levin shows us in his terrific book that there is much more to politics. For example, one’s understanding of human nature and history dramatically affect how one understands political change. So-called progressives and so-called conservatives are given much to think about in this fine work.

Since I am late to the party in reviewing this book, let me close with one massive implication that came to me in reading this book and it deals with Christian theology. For those of us Christians who gladly hold to more conservative or orthodox (small o) theology, there is something terribly important we can learn from Edmund Burke. Burke believed that the best of tradition is true, but to convince more radical types like Paine, it was crucial to also show the beauty of tradition. If I were to grade us conservative Christians on how well we do in showing the beauty of truth, I would give us a very low grade.

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I’ve read several good books about President Jackson. None have been duds. All of them taught me fascinating and important things about Jackson.

Jon Meacham combines some of my favorite features for biography: wonderful wordsmithing, lucid prose, an eye for the salient details, and a nose for smelling out the proper drama.

If you are looking for a terrific biography of Jackson, this is the first place I would recommend.

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Taking a clue from Goldilocks some commentaries are too devotional, some too technical, and a smaller some are “just right.” Johnson has written one in that rarer, last category.

Johnson’s commentary has responsible interaction with the text, he does not dodge the tough issues (an occupational hazard for commentators), and the flow is terrific.

If the title of this book strikes you as odd, you will be convinced of its aptness after reading Johnson’s fine work.

Thanks to our pastor, Peter Coelho, who enthusiastically mentioned this book in some of his sermons!
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The biggest compliment I can give an author is that his or her book will be “part of our final library.” Let me explain.

Our library has about 3,000 volumes. We are constantly culling it, but we are also constantly getting new books due to library sales (good and cheap way to get great books) and publishers sending me books for possible review/interview with the author.

As I get older (I am 59) there is the need to keep culling. Fortunately, both our sons are readers so they will gladly inherit a bunch of books. Even so, there are books that should be parted with before I die. I don’t want our sons to have the burden of determining whether some books are worth keeping.

Mark Edmundson’s book, self and soul: a Defense of Ideals (neither self nor soul are capitalized) is beautifully written, insightful, and full of suggestive ideas.

It is clear that Edmundson has great respect for major religious figures, especially the Buddha and Jesus. It is not clear what Edmundson personally believes.

Regardless of whether one is religious or not, there is much to be gained by a close read of this fine book. There are many things I found fascinating, but since most don’t read lengthy Amazon reviews, I will underscore just one. A whole chapter is devoted to showing that Shakespeare’s writings don’t offer us much direction for how to be virtuous. Sure, you could extrapolate some implications based on the loathsome exploits of various characters, but there is little that goes beyond their own self-interest. Edmundson writes that characters in Shakespeare “generally speak because they are trying to get something. They want to enhance their images, improve their lots, speed their designs.” In this same paragraph Edmundson says, “When we quote them, we import their desires into our speech.” As a Christian, I greatly appreciate a writer who is not afraid to underscore the power of words to form and fashion us.

A gem of a book!

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here. I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians especially are in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

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https://www.amazon.com/Destroyer-gods-Early-Christian-Distinctiveness/dp/1481304739

My interview with the author:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/02/18/larry-hurtado-interview/

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https://www.amazon.com/Making-Racist-Southerner-Reflects-History/dp/0813938872

I will doing a longer review or perhaps interviewing the author later so will keep this brief.  Dew is a wonderful writer, eminent scholar of the Civil War, and offers us a candid report of how he came to grips with the racism of his boyhood.  A tough read, but sorely needed.

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My interview with the author:
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Brian Matthew Jordan’s new book addresses an issue that others have either missed or been mistaken about: the poor treatment of Union soldiers upon coming home.

Since the war was fought in the South, those civilians experienced the horrors up close and personal. Their soldiers came back to a very appreciative homeland.

Since the war was not fought in the North, those civilians largely wanted to move on to more “positive” realities rather then be reminded of what the so-called Civil War had wrought.

Jordan has done yeoman’s work on the research and writing. It is no wonder this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.

There are some difficult and dark issues to wrestle through when it comes to the horrors of war. It is hard to imagine a better starting point than Jordan’s fine book.

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Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.

My favorite ones are those that combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day.  Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah is one of those. It is part of “The Bible Speaks Today” series (InterVarsity Press). Here is a taste:

“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence. It was all very impressive. But what was God’s point of view? According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion. It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.”

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https://www.amazon.com/Questioning-Evangelism-Engaging-Peoples-Hearts/dp/0825444284/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=SKPE034ACCMRES79GCF9

There’s nothing on evangelism quite like this book.  Stay tuned for my interview with Randy!

BOOKS OF THE YEAR: 2016

Reading is critical to what I do, but more importantly, who I am.  My reading is divided into various categories: reading related to a writing project, reviews and/or interviews with authors, and other miscellaneous books that are significant to be conversant on.  There are many classics that I have on my list (yes, I keep many lists), so books coming off the presses today are scrutinized pretty closely.

As I get older (58 now), I find myself rereading books which have made the biggest impact on me.  This means that I am getting pickier with my new selections with each passing moment which is not a bad thing.

Instead of giving a large list, let me mention seven books all published in 2016 which I found quite good.

The very best for the entire year was a three way tie with MAKING SENSE OF GOD by Tim Keller, SILENCE AND BEAUTY by Mako Fujimura, and AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY: A LOVE STORY by John Kaag.

So here are my seven favorites in no particular order…

SAVING THE BIBLE FROM OURSELVES: LEARNING TO READ AND LIVE THE BIBLE WELL by Glenn Paauw.

https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Bible-Ourselves-Learning-Read/dp/0830851240/ref=cm_rdp_product

My interview with the author is here:

Saving the Bible from Ourselves

AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY: A LOVE STORY by John Kaag

https://www.amazon.com/American-Philosophy-Story-John-Kaag/dp/0374154481/ref=cm_rdp_product

John Kaag is a philosopher, but don’t let that scare you away from his writing, at least not with this book.

American Philosophy: a Love Story is remarkable twin tour of a long abandoned library and the human heart. Kaag is a candid diagnostician of his own interior life with all its complexities and contradictions.

I’ve been reading some of Kaag’s interlocutors for some time, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a Christian, I disagree with much of what Emerson wrote, but he makes me wrestle with important issues in ways that make me a better Christian…at least a better thinking Christian.

Kaag is vulnerable about his own personal struggles and path to happiness. Like Emerson, I don’t agree with Kaag’s philosophy of life, but reading about his pilgrimage to greater sanity was fascinating and time well spent.

This is a brilliantly conceived and exceedingly satisfying read. If scholars like Kaag wrote more books like this one there would be a whole lot more interest in philosophy!

I think a wonderful movie could be made from this book…at least a well-crafted documentary.

PURSUING HEALTH IN AN ANXIOUS AGE by Bob Cutillo

https://www.amazon.com/Pursuing-Health-Anxious-Gospel-Coalition/dp/1433551101

Dr. Bob Cutillo has written a book that Andy Crouch describes this way: “Perhaps once a year, if I am lucky, I encounter a book that addresses a supremely important topic and does so in a supremely helpful way. This is such a book…”

Cutillo is a medical doctor. He serves in various capacities: as professor at a major university, teaching at an evangelical seminary, and providing compassionate care to those on the margins of society.

How should we understand health? Well, it depends on your frame of reference. If you believe that Jesus has conquered death, then you will answer that question very differently from those who don’t.

Cutillo is not just a “science guy,” though he certainly has great competence there having earned his MD from Columbia University. Cutillo also loves great literature and philosophy. He brings in wonderful insights from wide-ranging readings of great books. This offers a real model of responsible and competent integration. I’ve read other books that seek to integrate from various disciplines, but few pull it off as well as Cutillo.

MAKING SENSE OF GOD: AN INVITATION TO THE SKEPTICAL by Timothy Keller

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Sense-God-Invitation-Skeptical/dp/0525954155

My review can be found here:

Tim Keller’s Newest

DEEP WORK; RULES FOR FOCUSED WORK IN A DISTRACTED WORLD by Cal Newport

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692

Here is my interview with the author:

Cal Newport: Focused Success in a Distracted World

MEDIEVAL WISDOM FOR MODERN CHRISTIANS by Chris Armstrong

https://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Wisdom-Modern-Christians-Authentic/dp/1587433788/ref=cm_rdp_product

My interview with the author is here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/07/16/medieval-wisdom-for-modern-christians/

SILENCE AND BEAUTY: HIDDEN FAITH BORN OF SUFFERING by Makoto Fujimura

https://www.amazon.com/Silence-Beauty-Hidden-Faith-Suffering/dp/0830844597/ref=cm_rdp_product

I am writing a book on how to trust God in the midst of suffering. Recent reads were Endo’s Silence followed by Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty. I made over 200 marginal notes in the pages of Endo’s Silence. It is an extremely important work for Christians to digest deeply.

Usually a commentary on a great book may be helpful and illuminating, but hardly of the caliber of the classic. This book may break this regular rule.

Fujimura’s reflections on Endo’s classic work are simply stunning. Silence and Beauty is a wonderful companion to Endo’s Silence. In fact, I would argue that Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty is indispensable to reading Endo’s work. Silence and Beauty takes you into the heart of Japanese culture and rituals. It helps you understand why Christianity is such a threat to its cultural ethos.

Silence and Beauty is wonderfully conceived and full of compelling insights. Highly recommended.

 

 

BEST BOOKS OF 2014

I like reading these kinds of lists.  My own list does not mean these books were published during this year, though some were.  My list also includes a few rereads that keep on giving gold.

It was fun to see that three of my books were on Christianity Today’s Best Book List.  So, in no particular order here they are:

Surprised by Hope by NT Wright

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight

Confessions by Augustine (reread)

Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs

First We Read, Then We Write by Robert Richardson (reread)

Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer

God, Locke, and Liberty by Joseph Loconte

A Change of Heart: a Personal and Theological Memoir by Thomas Oden

Pious Nietzsche by Bruce Ellis Benson

How (Not) to be Secular by James K.A. Smith

 

FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013

 

Well, 2013 was another great year for reading.  In fact so good, I could not whittle down to the typical top ten list, so am cheating a bit with my favorite fifteen.  At the end, I will offer my top two for the year.  So in no particular order, here are my picks:

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  Take a great chick flick (the kind most guys would grudgingly admit they liked), mix in great writing, candor, intellectual stimulation, spiritual insight, and humor.  Voila you have Surprised by Oxford.

Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson.  My review can be found here: 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/31/saturday-book-review-matthew-lee-anderson/

The Taming of the Shrew (reread) by Mr. Shakespeare along with commentary from Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart.

Sacred Scripture, Sacred War by James P Byrd.  My interview with the author is coming soon.

College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco.  

Heaven on Earth by R. Alan Streett.  My interview can be found here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/11/16/alan-streett-heaven-on-earth/

Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf.  I have read many books on “a theology of work.”  This one has fresh insights and is very well done.

Fateful Lightning by Allen C. Guelzo.  A master historian, especially on the Civil War, shows us a scholar at the height of his powers.  Much to ponder in this absorbing book.

Why Study History?  by John Fea.  My brief review is here:

http://www.twocities.org/?p=2965

The First Thanksgiving by R. Tracy McKenzie.  I am glad that McKenzie is beginning to write for the wider public.  May God bless his efforts!  My interview with the author is here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/11/09/saturday-book-review-thanksgiving/

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis.  Years ago, I read the author’s Pulitzer-winner, Founding Brothers.  This book is similar with its great story-telling and solid scholarship.

Ravished by Beauty by Belden C. Lane.  Even if you thought you knew much about the Reformed faith, this book will surprise you.  My review can be found here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/06/15/david-g-moore-i-guess-im-not-a-calvinist/

Contending for the Faith by Ralph C. Wood.  My interview can be found here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/12/21/why-careful-reading-matters-to-christians/

Well, as things turn out, and it is pretty odd since I was not consciously thinking of it, my top two books are the first and last on this list: Surprised by Oxford and Contending for the Faith.

 

 

FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2012

 

Since this blog just launched last month, I wanted to offer my ten favorite reads (or rereads in one case) of 2012:

The Pilgrim’s Progess by John Bunyan.  The older I get, the more I am rereading.  Since Spurgeon read it 100 times, I ought to try at least ten!

If you are intimidated by older language, try this edition as your “gateway drug” to Bunyan:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/080246520X/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_3?pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0800786092&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1SYPQTZ8EX07HTGBE5JR

Booked by Karen Swallow Prior.  This is the kind of book which is sad to finish.  Wonderful writing coupled with insightful truths about the human predicament. I will either be interviewing the author later this year or doing a larger review here.  Stay tuned.

http://www.amazon.com/Booked-Literature-Karen-Swallow-Prior/dp/0692014543/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda.  One of our youngest son’s friends is Muslim and so has never experienced Christmas.  He wanted to do the whole exchanging of gifts, etc.  This is the book he got me.  A terrific book with fascinating background on how Conan Doyle developed his characters.

http://www.amazon.com/On-Conan-Doyle-Storytelling-Writers/dp/0691151350/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Struggling with Scripture by Brueggemann, Placher, and Blount.  A short book which helped me clarify once again why the more liberal position on Scripture is problematic.

http://www.amazon.com/Struggling-Scripture-Walter-Brueggemann/dp/0664224857/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

RetroChristianity by Svigel.  I did a review of this terrific book over at Jesus Creed.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/05/19/saturday-book-review-2/

http://www.amazon.com/RetroChristianity-Reclaiming-Forgotten-Michael-Svigel/dp/1433528487/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Believing Again by Lundin.  I am very interested in 19th century America and Lundin is a master of that period.

http://www.amazon.com/Believing-Again-Doubt-Faith-Secular/dp/0802830773/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand by Phares.  An entertaining look at the toughness of nineteenth century ministers who preached the gospel on the wild frontier. Ministers who think they have it rough today might want to give this book a read. Non ministers will equally enjoy this lively and interesting book.

http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Pocket-Gun-Hand-Frontier/dp/0803257252/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Green Leaves for Later Years by Griffin.  Poignant, insightful, and well-written reflections on the process of aging. Aging, as Chuck Swindoll famously said, is not for wimps. This book is a good arsenal in the battle so one will be wise and joyful.”

http://www.amazon.com/Green-Leaves-Later-Years-Spiritual/dp/0830835652/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Our Triune God by Ryken and LeFebvre.  The authors provide a concise, yet responsible overview. For those wanting a good primer on the trinity, this is a good place to start.

http://www.amazon.com/Our-Triune-Three-One-ebook/dp/B004V9IFRG/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

Love Works by Manby.  It sounds like a rather goofy and naive book, but it is actually quite good. Unlike the vast majority of business books, this author and successful business leader shares his own failures.

One quibble: He should have said much more about humility. And he seems to hold the popular notion that humility is elusive.

Overall, a wonderful book worth reading!

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Works-Timeless-Principles-Effective/dp/0310335671/ref=cm_cr-mr-title