These are not necessarily the best books I read that were published this year, but they were the best ones I have read. One of my goals this year was to read outside of my normal stream, and this list reflects that aim to a degree. While some of the books I list are not explicitly Christian, they informed how I live in the world as a follower of Christ. (While these are my favorite books from this year, you can see ten books that have stuck with me through the years here.)
Wendell Berry once said that a person with half an imagination does not need a movie version of a book. Read this book before you go see the movie when it comes out next week. Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who joined the Navy during World War II. His plane was shot down and he floated at see for forty-seven days before being captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for several years. Finally she chronicles the turns his life took after he was released. I found myself crying and cheering throughout this book. Hillenbrand’s writing and Zamerpini’s story made for the best book I read this year.
Every January I read the biography of an inspiring Christian from the past. This was the first time I have read much about the man behind The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Eric Metaxas guides readers through the life and times of Bonhoeffer. His faith in the face of difficulty and willingness to risk for the sake of what is right were inspiring. The narrative pace of this biography is gripping and I had a difficult time putting it down, even sacrificing sleep to continue reading a couple of nights. (You can read some of my other thoughts on Bonhoeffer here.)
I read almost everything Tim Keller writes because I learn much about life and ministry from him. In his latest book he helps readers develop a deeper understanding of prayer. From explaining what prayer is to walking through how to pray, Keller offers much wise counsel to anyone who will listen. The chapter on the Lord’s Prayer was the most helpful for me and I recommend this to anyone who has been struggling in their prayer life.
Diving into Wendell Berry’s fictional town of Port Williams reminded me of my childhood in southwest Alabama. The Port Williams novels follow the lives of the men and women who make up this community, and recount how community life has changed throughout the decades. I read five of these novels this year and this gem told from the perspective of the town barber was my favorite. Jayber Crow reminded me of the importance of community, a slow pace of life, and the danger of unthinkingly adopting the latest technology. If you want to get into this series, I also recommend Hannah Coulter and The Memory of Old Jack.
Writing in 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series, Ray Ortlund examines how the Gospel should affect the internal life of the church. Ortlund lays out the Gospel and then shows how this doctrine should create a particular kind of culture in our churches. If you read the New Testament you see all over how the way we treat each other should be marked by our belief in the Gospel and how our life together constitutes our witness to the watching world. The Gospel may become a once a year read for me. (My other once a year reads are Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome and The Supremacy of God in Preaching.)
Taking God at His Word
The doctrine of Scripture stays under constant attack in evangelicalism. Whether from sheer neglect or frontal assault, evangelicals risk running aground on many issues because of a poor understanding of what the Bible is. Kevin DeYoung walks through Psalm 119 to show what the Bible says about itself. Then he walks through the sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity of the Bible. Anyone struggling with confidence in Scripture would benefit from DeYoung’s work. (You can read my review here.)