Most Shaping Books of 2019
By David George Moore
The descriptor was changed from favorite to “most shaping” because I wanted to ponder the books that will most likely stay with me the rest of my days. (I offer this “list” at the age of sixty-one.)
A sampling of formative reads in this category includes Known by God by Brian Rosner, Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, Why are There Differences in the Gospels? By Michael Lincona, Caesar and the Sacrament by R. Alan Streett, A Practical Primer on Theological Method by Kreider and Svigel, and others.
It was hard to pick between the following two, so there is a tie between Everyday Glory by Gerald McDermott and Pastor Paul by Scot McKnight. My interview with McDermott is here:
Here are six things (there are more!) I like about Pastor Paul:
I did not read much in this category, but even if I had, it is hard to imagine two better books than Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler and Preaching as Reminding by Jeffrey Arthur.
A quick comment on Preaching as Reminding:
I have read several books on preaching. None have been duds, but this one may now be my favorite. I don’t know of any other book on preaching that accomplishes so much in so little space (under 150 pages).
Bruce Waltke and others are gushing about it and I add my name to the gushers. Short, but full of powerful and wonderful insights. Beautifully written. Integrative approach. Careful biblical studies of memory along with insights from neuroscience, psychology, etc.
You will learn how remembering is very different than recall!
I read a lot of history and this year was no different. I read two big surveys of American history: Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope and Jill Lepore’s massive, These Truths. Both were terrific. I also read a little more than half of David Blight’s magisterial biography of Frederick Douglass. Since I will probably finish that in early 2020, it will undoubtedly appear in next year’s list. There were other wonderful reads like Redemption: Martin Luther King’s Last 31 Hours by Rosenbloom, the classic by Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of History, A Little book for New Historians by Tracy McKenzie, The People of Concord by Paul Brooks, Waiting for the Weekend by Witold Rybczynski, along with other fine books on history.
The most shaping is a tie between God Almost Chosen Peoples by George Rable and The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. Here are my interviews with both those writers:
This category needs to be beefed up! Though I try to read many of the “great books,” this year was a poor performance in that regard. Two highlights were my reread of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and my first read of An Experiment in Literary Criticism by C.S. Lewis.
Two books by up and coming writers could easily fit in other categories like spiritual life or culture. Both are by skilled wordsmiths and have much to say, albeit their youngish age: In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador and Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It by David Zahl.
It may seem scandalous to give the award here to a living author, but it was a pretty easy choice with Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry’s Sustainable Forms by Jeffrey Bilbro.
My interview with Bilbro can be found here:
I’m with Eugene Peterson in not really liking the term “spiritual life,” for what about life is not spiritual? I use this term because many people use it as a shorthand of sorts for books that especially help them in their relationship with God.
I read two terrific books on the importance of “trees” in the Bible: Between Two Trees by Shane Wood and Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach us about the Nature of God and His Love for Us by Matthew Sleeth. Highly recommended duo! Many other good reads, but I won’t mention them here as this list is already plenty long.
Lots of ties this year, and this category also has one, a unique, but necessary triple tie. All are beautifully written and endlessly insightful: Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World by Gerald Sittser, James K.A. Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine and Michael McCullough’s Remember Death: The Surprising Path to a Living Hope. Here are the links to my interview or reviews of each:
In lieu of a typical book review, as is my habit from time to time, allow me to mention half a dozen things I greatly appreciated about this book. It will definitely make the list for my “Favorite Books of the Year.”
This is the seventh book I’ve read by Smith. All of them made me think in fresh and provocative ways. How (Not) to be Secular was my favorite. It now comes in a close second to Smith’s latest. On the Road with Saint Augustine is now my favorite.
So here are a half dozen things I appreciated about this book:
*There is elegant writing combined with keen insights. It is no surprise that On the Road with Saint Augustine received a coveted starred review by Publishers Weekly.
*It makes a compelling case for why Augustine is the ideal travel partner as we make our way through life. For me, both Augustine and Bunyan (there are others) have been indispenable to have as my vagabond friends.
*There is a thick realism in this book (take note Joel Osteen), but Smith always keeps this tethered to a compelling hope.
*Smith has a good nose for the telling quote or captivating illustration. HIs wide-reading across various disciplines showcases the brilliance of Augustine.
*In my own teaching, and especially in my ministry of discipleship with men, this is the kind of book that I can use as a gateway of sorts to the riches of Christian history.
*I’ve always found that great books help me clarify important issues. My marginalia reflects this reality in On the Road with Saint Augustine. For example, in the chapter on friendship, Smith’s interaction with Heidegger resulted in my marginal comment of “Molds are everywhere, so it is impossible to break out of every single mold.” In other words, autonomous individuals don’t exist because they can’t exist.
Whenever the time comes that sales begin to dwindle for this book, I would recommend Brazos making booklets out of some chapters. For example, the chapter on freedom is one I would love to give to any thoughtful person, irrespective of whether they are a Christian.