Category Archives: Best Books of Year

BOOKS OF THE YEAR, 2023

It is near the time of the year when I offer my top reads.

Since I will be regularly posting about great books and the writing process, I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel if you have not already.

Go to: https://www.youtube.com/@MOOREENGAGING

A dear friend asked for my earlier than usual list of best books. It does make sense to send these now since some of you do early shopping. Here are the ones that proved to be the best reads of these first ten months:

Cicero, How to Grow Old

How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers): Cicero, Marcus Tullius, Freeman, Philip, Freeman, Philip: 9780691167701: Amazon.com: Books

Cicero, How to be a Friend

How to Be a Friend: An Ancient Guide to True Friendship (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers): Cicero, Marcus Tullius, Freeman, Philip, Freeman, Philip: 9780691177199: Amazon.com: Books

These two by Cicero are in a series by Princeton University Press. Beautiful hardbacks and inexpensive. The translations are modernized, but elegant.

Wilson, Remaking the World

Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West: Wilson, Andrew: 9781433580536: Amazon.com: Books

The hype about Andrew’s book is warranted. My interview with the author:

Talking with Andrew Wilson About “Remaking the World” (mereorthodoxy.com)

Prior, The Evangelical Imagination

The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis: Swallow Prior, Karen: 9781587435751: Amazon.com: Books

My interview with the author:

Karen Swallow Prior on the Evangelical Imagination (mereorthodoxy.com)

Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth: Rauch, Jonathan: 9780815738862: Amazon.com: Books

I have disagreements with the author on what can and can’t be “known,” but it is a brilliant and important book.

Gross, The Minutemen and Their World

Minutemen and Their World (Revised and Expanded Edition): Gross, Robert A: 9781250822949: Amazon.com: Books

My interview with the author:

The Minutemen and Their World – Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture

Scrivener, The Air We Breathe

The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality (Discover the Christian roots of the values we prize in western society): Glen Scrivener: 9781784987497: Amazon.com: Books

I have read many books on apologetics and how best to engage the culture. I have read and, in some cases, reread classic works by Augustine, Pascal, Chesterton, and Lewis. Contemporary folks like Keller, both of the two big books by Charles Taylor, Sire, Guinness, Schaeffer, Pearcey, and Moreland have been very helpful. You get the picture. All these have been terrific, but the book that now tops my list is Glen Scrivener’s book, The Air We Breathe.

In relatively short compass Scrivener winsomely, wisely, and wonderfully showcases that we do as Flannery O’Connor said, live in a Christ-haunted world. (She said a Christ-haunted south, but I am expanding on her words.)

If you are looking for a well-written and compelling resource that makes it crystal clear that many of the things we love and take for granted like freedom are a result of Christianity, then this book is for you. If you are not looking for a resource like this, you should be!

Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Amazon.com: Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: 9780199843282: Guelzo, Allen C.: Books

Guelzo is one of my favorite historians. This was a reread and well worth it.

Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture: Watkin, Christopher, Timothy Keller: 9780310128724: Amazon.com: Books

I made hundreds of marginal notes on this seminal and wonderfully written book.

A few decades back, I read Augustine’s The City of God, which served as a key inspiration for the author. I cherish both works.

I will simply say that Biblical Critical Theory will make you see more clearly the far-reaching and beautiful insights in the Bible.

Lundin, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief

Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief (Library of Religious Biography (LRB)): Lundin, Roger: 9780802821270: Amazon.com: Books

I have read many books by Lundin. They are all great. This is one of my favorites. Great for any person, especially those with a penchant for doubt.

McKnight and Matchett, Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple

Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple: McKnight, Scot, Matchett, Cody: 9780310135784: Amazon.com: Books

It is wonderful that Scot McKnight is inviting others to collaborate with him on certain writing projects. Scot wrote the popular book called Tov with his daughter and he has brought folks in on a variety of projects. In this particular case, Scot teams up with Cody Matchett. Such apprenticeship, especially by an established scholar, is most encouraging.

In lieu of a typical book review, I like to depart at times from that format and list a handful of insights or implications that I appreciated most from my reading. Here we go…

*Years ago, I remember thinking if the blessing at the beginning of Revelation (1:3) is true, then the book can’t be too difficult to understand. It didn’t make sense that Revelation would be impossible to understand and at the same time say, “Blessed is the one who reads, and those who hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Emphasis mine) Frankly, it would be cruel if God instructed us to obey a book that is beyond our comprehension.

The authors do a terrific job of showcasing that Revelation’s meaning is clear and that its message is indeed life-giving. I should add that Revelation being “clear” is not at odds with the need to read carefully, something the authors greatly help us with.

*I regularly call our country “speculation nation.” We live in a toxic time where many of us drink a deadly cocktail of ignorance and arrogance. We may not know much, but others better listen to us!

Revelation for the Rest of Us consistently and winsomely reminds us to steer away from speculation. And speculation is big business for the book of Revelation! Instead, McKnight and Matchett model an attractive form of attentively listening to the text and locating the gems that are hiding in plain sight.

*If one appreciates the history of the church, then one can’t help but be a bit suspicious that a certain dispensational reading of Revelation is correct. What about Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant denominations who disagree? What about the recency of dispensationalism? Dallas Theological Seminary is one of the seminaries I attended. Even there it was admitted that dispensational was recent.

Revelation for the Rest of Us should cause many to reconsider whether a dispensational reading is accurate.

Wood, Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution

The great Gordon Wood never disappoints.

Amazon.com: Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution: 9780197546918: Wood, Gordon S.: Books

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, The Federalist Papers

A rewarding “devotional” read this year of these amazing essays.

The Federalist: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, George W. Carey, James McClellan: 9780865972896: Amazon.com: Books

Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

I have blogged on this terrific and big book (almost 900 pages). A rewarding read that repays handsomely.

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: Barrett, Matthew, Carl R. Trueman: 9780310097556: Amazon.com: Books

Marsden, An Infinite Fountain of Light: Jonathan Edwards for the Twenty-First Century

An Infinite Fountain of Light: Jonathan Edwards for the Twenty-First Century: Marsden, George M.: 9781514006627: Amazon.com: Books

George Marsden is widely considered one of the best living historians of American Christianity, if not the best.

This is Marsden’s third book on Jonathan Edwards. His big biography won the prestigious Bancroft Prize.

In this book, Marsden gives us an Edwards for our own time. We perhaps find an unlikely partner in Edwards for helping to navigate our present time, but Marsden makes a compelling case that the 18th century clergyman has much to offer us.

Among other things, Edwards’s love of beauty and the natural world are simply stunning. They are chalked full of implications for how we see the world today.

Whether you know much or little about Edwards, An Infinite Fountain of Light is a terrific read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOKS OF THE YEAR (2022)

I read many good books this year, but the following twenty-three stood out.

My top two reads were Rembrandt is in the Wind and The Transcendentalists and Their World.

ART

Discovering God Through the Arts by Terry Glaspey

If you are looking to learn more about various forms of art, but want a wise and gentle guide, then this book is for you.

Discovering God Through the Arts by Terry Glaspey recently won a Christianity Today book award.

Glaspey offers much clarity on how great art can aid our walk with Jesus. His book is full of compelling and attractive examples.

Glaspey also gives the reader a map of sorts for determining a reasonable plan for how to proceed.

Beautifully written with many well-selected pictures, this is a terrific book!

Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey

I am blessed to receive many amazing books from publishers.

Now almost five months into 2022, Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind and Robert Gross’s, The Transcendentalists and Their World are my favorite reads of the year. (Update: This remained true throughout the rest of the year.)

As I get older (64 now), I get more selective, yet I am happy to say that remarkable books continue to be published. If you are looking for beautiful reflections on art and the Christian life, this book is for you.

Ramsey is a pastor, so he knows firsthand the troubles of a terribly broken world. He also faced his own death just shy of his fortieth birthday.

So yes, Ramsey well knows about pain and suffering. He reflects on it beautifully in this book, but he is hardly a cynic. Ramsey’s anchor is firmly placed in the truths of Scripture.

If you are looking for a careful curator of both soul and art, this book is highly recommended. I recommend it with great gusto!

BIBLE AND THEOLOGY

Who is God? by Richard Bauckham

Richard Bauckham shines again!

Richard Bauckham has become one of my favorite (living) biblical scholars. He is a careful and respectful reader of Scripture. He offers fresh insight on old truths.

This book is short at barely over 100 pages, but don’t let that fool you! More is packed in its pages than many books that are much longer.

I find that books based on lecture series, like this one, of a high quality. The lectures are written for a live audience which makes them clear and compelling.

This book is truly a treat to read and ponder!

Heavenly Participation by Hans Boersma

A challenging (in the best way) and edifying read to reconsider how to engage Scripture from an approach that was appreciated for many centuries. I’m not sure I agree with everything, but I was glad to have read it.

Talking Social Justice by Howard Lawler

A short, winsome, provocative (in the best sense), and biblical look at a topic of great importance.

It is indeed a very short read but will leave you pondering important matters for years to come.

Highly recommended!

The Thrill of Orthodoxy by Trevin Wax

My interview with Trevin:

Book Interview: The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith by Trevin Wax

BIOGRAPHY

John Stuart Mill by Timothy Larsen

A fascinating study of someone we thought we knew!

This is the fourth book I’ve read by the author.

Larsen is a top-notch scholar who has a good nose for the telling anecdote. He is astute in finding evidence that corrects popular, but wrong views, especially those that relate to his area of expertise, the Victorian Era.

This biography on Mill is everything you would want. It is elegantly written, the author brilliantly corrects various misguided notions, and you learn about a person that is all too easy for us religious types to dismiss.

Highly recommended!

I should add that I am hoping Oxford offers this as a paperback at a lower price.

Mother of Modern Evangelicalism by Arlin C. Migliazzo

A woman to know!

I already knew a fair bit about Henrietta Mears prior to reading this book. My familiarity was due to the stories Dr. Bill Bright used to share about Mears. Bright along with Billy Graham and a coterie of other notables, fell under the spell of Mears.

Dr. Bright highlighted various things about Mears but sadly failed to emphasize her desire to offer rigorous education to Christians. Mears believed it was scandalous that schools offered detailed instruction, but that churches were haphazard and superficial.

J.I. Packer used to regularly say that the glaring need of the church was for catechesis or Christian education. I very much agree with Packer here and Mears modelled what this would look like.

Not only were thousands involved in the various Sunday school ministries of First Presbyterian, Hollywood, but Mears provided depth, ministry to the whole person, and engagement in all sorts of ministries.

This is a well-written and compelling account of Henrietta Mears’s approach to Christian education in the local church. We desperately need to listen to her today!

CULTURE

Curiosity by F.H. Buckley

There are bad types of curiosity. Roger Shattuck wrote of that type in Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography.

There is a godly form of curiosity. I wrote about its importance in my latest book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. I’m afraid too many Christians don’t see the need for developing a godly curiosity about the world, themselves, or even the God who created them. It is the curiosity that wants to engage the world, better understand history, stops to wonder why there are so many colors when no real pragmatic benefit comes from such variety, and much more.

F.H. Buckley has written a marvelous book, Curiosity and its Twelve Rules for Life. Buckley teaches at George Mason’s law school. He has wide-ranging interests, so he models what he is writing about. Buckley also has some wise warnings about dangerous forms of curiosity, but most of the book is dedicated to unpacking what healthy forms of curiosity look like.

I highly recommend this well-written and insightful book!

The Coming of Neo-Feudalism by Joel Kotkin

First, a note about the cover design. The photo does not do it justice, but this is a beautiful and provocative cover. It is truly a work of art.

Kotkin’s book only has 172 pages of text, but it is not a quick read. This is hardly due to a lack of lucid writing. Indeed, the book is written in a very lucid manner. The reason it is not a quick read, or at least should not be a quick read, is that Kotkin packs so much in for the reader to consider.

In a nutshell, this book does a brilliant job at detailing the forces that are hollowing out the middle class.

Yes, the text only is 172 pages, but Kotkin’s prodigious research into these issue yields almost 100 pages of endnotes.

Changing Minds by Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts

In my early fifties (I am now 64), I started to keep a designated journal on aging. It has random reflections of mine and books I’ve read.

American pastors talk very little about aging, even though the Bible has much to say about it. And aging is an important subject not only for us older folks, but those much younger are wise to think about the body’s decline (see Ecc. 12).

I picked up Changing Minds at the Harvard bookstore, one of my happy places. It was in a stack of copies at a significant discount. I also picked up some copies for a few friends.

Changing Minds is not long (166 pages), but that does not limit its brilliance. It is a careful work, but the writing is lucid along with many fascinating studies that hold the reader’s attention.

An elegant and insightful work!

CHRISTIAN LIVING

Aggressively Happy by Joy Marie Clarkson

I almost did not read this book. The cover made me think it was going to be another one of those fluffy, feel-good books. You know, the kind in the end that leave you more convinced that Christians just can’t write honestly about the human condition.

Well, I am here to say that Joy’s splendid book is hardly spiritual pablum. Joy just finished her PhD at St. Andrews, she knows suffering firsthand, and yet she maintains a gritty confidence in Jesus Christ.

When you are my age (sixty-four, by the way), have a strong theological education, and constitutionally have a honed radar for drivel, you are ready to be disappointed by “popular” Christian books.

I was not disappointed!

The writing is beautiful, the insights are fresh, and the storytelling, even about the author’s own life is wonderful. Talking or writing about yourself is fraught with all kinds of potential hazards, but Joy avoids them. She is the winsome, fellow traveler you would like to have as a guide and friend.

I usually read (meaning careful highlighting and note-taking) 50-60 books a year. I peruse hundreds of others. Aggressively Happy very much deserves to be on my favorite book list for 2022, but now I feel another category needs to be added: Books that pleasantly surprised me.

I would love to open a bookstore someday. Well, not quite. Since my own teaching and writing makes that impossible, I would love to be the person who picks what gets stocked. If and when that happens, you can be sure to find this book on the shelves.

Power, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God by Marva J. Dawn

This is the third book I have read by Dawn. She is insightful and has a clear heart for the church. And she is definitely a truth-teller. This book is a wonderful adjunct to Fleming Rutledge’s big book on the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Truth and Beauty by Andrew Klavan

Andrew Klavan has written a terrific book. His keen insights and marvelous writing are on full display.

Instead of a typical book review, I am going to list six things that I appreciated about Truth and Beauty:

*Klavan is an honest, but not cynical writer. It’s not easy to write truthfully while still holding to a compelling hope, but Klavan does.

*There is a winsome and penetrating critique of materialism.

*Good sketches of key individuals and historic movements like the French Revolution provide helpful context.

*Klavan’s book contains a convincing account of how the Romantic poets (even the godless ones) have much to offer Christians.

*The author clearly did his homework by familiarizing himself with solid scholarship, but he does not write about pedantic details that most people do not care about.

* Last, and hardly least: there is a joyful confidence in the Bible. Klavan is an adult convert to Christianity, so he takes nothing for granted. His thoughtfulness and child-like faith in God are edifying.

Mere Evangelism by Randy Newman

My interview with Randy:

C. S. Lewis on Evangelism and Beauty with Randy Newman

A Non-Anxious Presence by Mark Sayers

This is the third book I’ve read by this author. All have been terrific.

Sayers has a real knack for putting things in a fresh perspective. He effectively uses history and global trends to illumine the topic at hand. In this book, it is how the church can wisely address living between eras, what Sayers describes as a “gray zone.”

There are many invaluable insights to be sure in this book, but many times I found myself launching in a direction that the author probably did not intend, but I nonetheless found fruitful.

HISTORY

James Madison by Jay Cost

This is a remarkable biography. It is lucid, well-written, and gives a very balanced portrait of Madison.

Cost highlights several of Madison’s mistakes, yet the author does a terrific job of showcasing Madison’s genius, not just in brain power which he had plenty, but in our fourth president’s ability to compromise in generally wise ways.

Some find Madison a typical flip-flopper, but Jay Cost convincingly demonstrates that this is a misread of Madison.

A wonderful read that will elevate your understanding of the early Republic. You will also learn much about key players, especially Hamilton.

Bullies and Saints by John Dickson

I have read many books on history and the history of the church. Church history was also my minor or cognate field of study in seminary.

There is much to like about John Dickson’s Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History. Sometimes instead of a regular review, I like to offer five things I appreciated about a book. Here goes with Bullies and Saints:

*Dickson is balanced in laying out the good, bad, and downright ugly or evil. He does not fall prey to either the cynic on one hand or the hagiographer on the other hand.

*There is a responsible engagement with the best scholarship, yet the book remains accessible.

*Dickson is a lucid writer who knows how to find the telling anecdote or illustration.

*Unlike some Christians, Dickson does not go back to the past to find talking points he already agrees with. He allows the strangeness of the past to speak to him and by way of extension, us.

*It is the kind of book that a Christian could comfortably give to a thoughtful non-Christian. I think many non-Christians would be pleasantly surprised by Dickson’s fair-mindedness.

The Transcendentalists and Their World by Robert A. Gross

My interview with Professor Gross:

The Transcendentalists and Their World

The Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky

This is the third Olasky book I’ve read. Though they are very different books, all three have been terrific reads.

The Tragedy of American Compassion is the book that Olasky is best known for. Even though it was published thirty years ago, it stands up very well.

A compelling case is made that the prior ways of understanding compassion and therefore dispensing aid are superior to our modern policies and programs. By “prior ways,” we are talking about the nineteenth century.

Books like this can so easily fall prey to trotting out an endless stream of statistics. Numbers matter to be sure, but they don’t tell a story. W.E.B. DuBois learned that lesson in a graphic way when he realized that his fascination with numbers could not adequately convey seeing “the barbecued parts of a lynched man.”

Olasky peppers his seminal book with loads of stories that help us better understand what true compassion entails. In other words, Olasky appropriately moves both our minds and affections to consider a wiser approach.

LITERATURE

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s writing lingers because it is haunted.

His essay on his troubled father kept me up one night. He is describing terribly important things. Baldwin is one of those gifted and visceral writers. I’m glad to have read him but he does haunt the reader to wrestle with difficult truths.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Reader beware! Didion is a great writer, but also a haunting one.

Here she reflects on the death of her husband. She also writes about the brutal circumstances of her only child’s ailments which eventually kill her shortly after Didion’s husband.

Didion does not believe God is in control. As she writes, “The eye is not on the sparrow.”

So be careful if you choose to read this seductive and sad book. Discerning readers will be enriched, but one must be ready to face the utter hopelessness of one who does not believe there is anything/anyone beyond this world.

How to Keep Your Cool by Seneca

I am not a fan of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, but since “all truth is God’s truth,” there is value in considering their pragmatic solutions to various challenges of the human condition. Seneca’s counsel sounds like the Proverbs in various places, but the latter is definitely preferred.

 

REMBRANDT IS IN THE WIND

BOOK OF THE YEAR TIE!

I am blessed to receive many amazing books from publishers.

Now almost five months into 2022, Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind and Robert Gross’s, The Transcendentalists and Their World are my favorite reads of the year.

As I get older (64 now), I get more selective, yet I am happy to say that remarkable books continue to be published. If you are looking for beautiful reflections on art and the Christian life, this book is for you. Ramsey is a pastor, so he knows firsthand the troubles of a terribly broken world. He also faced his own death just shy of his fortieth birthday.

So yes, Ramsey well knows about pain and suffering. He reflects on it beautifully in this book, but he is hardly a cynic. Ramsey’s anchor is firmly placed in the truths of Scripture.

If you are looking for a careful curator of both soul and art, this book is highly recommended. I recommend it with great gusto!