Here is a quick list of the best books I read in 2015 (a little late, I know). They are books I would suggest in a heartbeat for others to read, and ones that I will most likely re-read again. They are listed in the order I read them this last year.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Obviously, this is a classic American book, which I have read before, but it was a joy to come back to re-read it again in light of Lee’s announcement of her new book (which I have yet to read – but it’s on the list for 2016!). There is something wonderful about the story told from young Scout’s eyes as she witnesses the changes in her small town and constantly looks to the beloved Atticus in the midst of everything. If you haven’t read it, you should do so now – because it really does live up to all the hype you’ve heard about. I won’t say anything more than that.
One of the most lamentable aspects of Evangelical Christianity, in my opinion, is the lack of any serious connection with church history. I think that is one of the reason’s many Evangelicals are leaving the church for many “high church” traditions (like Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy). Svigel (one of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary) addresses this concern in RetroChristianity by going back to the early church to provide some much-needed critique and reformation of the Evangelical Church today. For those not familiar with church history or the church fathers, Svigel gives an excellent introduction and provides a fair analysis of what we have lost in our churches today which history can provide or amend. He does this with clear writing, aided by beautiful graphics and charts. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is involved with the church, and yet sees areas where Evangelicalism needs gentle correction.
Till We Have Faces – CS Lewis
Till We Have Faces has easily become one of my favorite books of all time, and it only gets better the more I re-read it. CS Lewis said it was his favorite and best book that he wrote, yet hardly anyone has taken the time to read it. I will warn you that it is not like Narnia or Mere Christianity. It is much more gritty and dark, set in a primitive society that worships a pantheon of gods. But I have a hard time thinking of a book that has more powerfully transformed the way I see God and relate to him. It deals with the hiddenness of God in a way that not many Christian books are able to because of their setting. Each re-reading brings new insights and makes me love the story even more. I will also warn you that it may take more than one reading to really appreciate what Lewis is doing in this book. I did not enjoy my first time I read it, but every time afterwards it has become a gold mine for me. It is a story that speaks to my heart. I cannot highly enough recommend this book for everyone to read.
Silence – Shusaku Endo
Silence is a powerful novel by one of the foremost Japanese Christian authors, Shusaku Endo. It is a story set in Japan in the early 17th century when Christians were persecuted by the emperor, and two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries go to encourage the remaining Christians in hiding there. Throughout the story, the missionaries wrestle with the “silence of God” in the midst of the persecution they witness in the villages of Japan. What results is a deeply moving picture of two men wrestling with God and against persecution, in a riveting tale that eventually brought me to tears. This is another book I would recommend reading, especially since Martin Scorcese is finishing up a feature film based on it which is due to be released sometime in 2016. Read the book before watching the film!
Depression is a subject that is sadly not discussed very often within the local church – as if there is no such thing as a “depressed Christian.” In Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Zack Eswine does a superb job of giving hope for those who suffer from depression by looking at the life, experience, and writings of Charles Spurgeon. As someone who wrestles with depression (and is still working on admitting that and sharing that), this was an encouraging read for me to see that the “prince of preachers” was open about his depression and wrestled with it his entire life. His story and writings about depression truly did provide me with “realistic hope” – hope that was not grounded in some surface level principle or quote, but was grounded in the experience of a man who loved God and yet wrestled with depression. It was also helpful that it is not a massive tome, but rather a small little book that someone suffering from depression (who often don’t have the energy to read dense theological treatises) would be able to read small portions of each day.
Beginning to Pray – Anthony Bloom
Beggining to Pray is a small little book by an Orthodox Archbishop about what the title suggests: how to start praying. The way Bloom writes about and views prayer is very different from what I have always believed, but it was very transformational for me to read this little book. He talks about prayer as more than just a list of requests or pleas, but rather a way to relate to God on a day-to-day basis. I found myself underlining and re-reading so many paragraphs in this book, and still go back and re-read chapters from time to time. As has been a theme in my life this past year – Bloom really addresses the “silence” and “absence of God” in a few chapters, and that may be why this book had such a great impact on me personally. So I am not sure everyone who reads this will find it as powerful as I did, but if you wrestle with the “silence/absence of God” then I would highly encourage you to read this short book.
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life – Richard Rohr
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk, who spends much of his life as a spiritual director. In this book, he essentially writes about his understanding of the grand metanarrative of the spiritual life – which he divides into “two halves.” This last year and a half have been a big transition from me personally and spiritually, and this book helped me to find a language to describe what was happening during that transformation. Rohr helped me identify where God has brought me and begin to see where the path is leading in light of my current experiences and relationships. I will say, it is a book that most likely will be polarizing – either you will understand it and love it, or it will seem nearly insane and troubling to read. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, I underlined nearly half of the book – and will definitely come back and re-read this one again soon.
The Return of the Prodigal Son – Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen is becoming one of my new favorite authors, primarily because of his ability to say what needs to be said in such a simple and yet profound way. He often writes about things that I already know, but the way in which he writes allows me to see with new eyes and really feel the depth of what he says. The Return of the Prodigal Son is about a story that nearly every Christian knows by heart, but Nouwen brings it to life and pierces hearts with his understanding of it. It is about him studying Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, and essentially expositing the parable through his interaction with the painting. In doing so, he journey’s through the experience of the younger brother, the older brother, and finally what it means to become the father in the parable. It is a moving book that has helped me really understand (not just know, intellectually) how much God loves me. It is much like Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, but dare I say a better version (which is saying a lot, since I am admittedly a Keller fanboy). Highly recommended for anyone.
Also, I didn’t have room for another book by Nouwen in this list, but I highly recommend his little book Life of the Beloved as well.
I accidentally ran into this little book at a bookstore and am forever grateful for that great stroke of fortune. Essentially, as the title suggests, this is a guide to prayer that utilizes poetry and great Christian literature to aid in your daily prayer. It is a literary lectionary, if you will. Each week it gives you a set of Scriptures to read and a selection of poems and excerpts of novels that all correspond to a certain theme for the week. It was great for me because I’ve always wanted to read more poetry, but do not have the slightest idea where to start, and an entire book of poetry scares the daylights out of me. But At the Still Point gives me 3-5 shorter poems to simply mull over each week, which gives me the ability to really digest what they are saying. This collection is particularly for ordinary time (between Pentecost & Advent) but there is also another collection that I am reading right now for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany titled Light Upon Light, as well as one for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide called Between Midnight and Dawn. I look forward to working my way through each of them.
Dwell: Life with God for the World – Barry Jones
Dwell is another book by one of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary who writes about how to live out missional Christian spirituality within the church. As a pastor and professor, Jones has an ability to take deep themes and make them both accessible and practical for the reader, and has wrestled through what a historically rooted and biblically deep concept of spiritual formation looks like, both for the church and the individual within the church. I especially appreciated Jones’ chapters on the spiritual disciplines and how to revive them in our contemporary context, as I have had the chance to practice some of those same things in classes I’ve taken with him during my time at DTS. I also appreciate how incarnation is interwoven throughout the entire book – that spirituality is not about disembodied inner relationships only, but is strongly connected with how we interact with the physical world around us – like Jesus did in his own incarnation.
What books did you enjoy reading last year? What books are on your list for this year?
I want to start broadening my reading horizons this year and reading books and genres that I would not typically read – so I would appreciate any recommendations or suggestions you might have.