Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CPYU Bookshelf Awards: Derek's Picks for 2009

It’s time, once again, to award the best books we’ve read this past year. I have ten awards to give and Walt’s list is coming soon as well! A few of the following books were published in late 2008, but make this list because they were read in early 2009. They are listed alphabetically by author:

Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher (InterVarsity Press). I read this book with great interest. It has a diverse group of endorsers. Do you know of any other book that includes endorsements from both Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell? Wow. It’s no secret that many people are questioning what it means to be the church in our post-Christian world. The latest church battle is between what Belcher describes as emerging verses traditional. He gives them both a fair and balanced assessment, but concludes by offering a third way, learning from both and pushing the church to go deeper. I think this is currently the best book available for anyone trying to make sense of the “emergent conversation.” It is thoughtful, engaging and personal. I’ve written more about this book at Living Jubilee.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford (The Penguin Press). Crawford makes a strong case for the value of “working with one’s hands,” or manual labor. With a PhD in political philosophy, Crawford has worked at universities and think-tanks, in what he calls “knowledge work.” But it was never satisfying. The “work” was too abstract, without much to show for it. When he opened a motorcycle repair shop things began to change. Not only did he find this work more meaningful and enjoyable, but he also noticed that it required him to think more. Repairing motorcycles was more intellectual in a richer, deeper sense of the word. Crawford wonders, “Given the intrinsic richness of manual work – cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal – the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education.” Where have all the shop classes gone? As a culture do we tend to look down upon work and workers who do manual labor? In attempting to answer these questions, Crawford has some important things to say about education in general and higher education in particular. It’s an exciting book to read, a great conversation starter and forces readers to ask tough questions about the meaning of work and ultimately, of life.

In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life by Marva Dawn (InterVarsity Press). I recommend reading this short book devotionally. Try a chapter a day and follow up on the biblical references. You won’t be disappointed. Dawn is a master at communicated deep theology in an accessible way. In the Beginning, God focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis, revealing how most of our essential doctrines can be found early on in the story of God. If we are going to read the Bible well, we need to get off to a good start and Dawn’s book provides a helpful framework that can lead to penetrating Bible study.

Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace by Cathleen Falsani (Zondervan). In February, I was perusing the book table at the annual Jubilee Conference and a good friend and fellow reader was nearby. I asked her one of my favorite questions: “Read anything good lately?” Without hesitation she replied, “You should read Sin Boldly.” I did and I’m glad. Falsani is an award winning journalist and it shows. She takes readers on a journey to discover grace. Grace may be tough to define but it’s easier to explain through story. Falsani is a master story-teller, opening the eyes of her reader’s to the grace-filled world in which they live. The book is funny and moving and never dull. It is a wonderful reminder of grace that has been found in some of the toughest places in the world.

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield (Thomas Nelson). American Christians might be surprised to learn that beer has played a major role in world history, particularly religious history. Yes, beer. Mansfield’s book tells the captivating story of beer focusing on the life, career and family of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, Arthur Guinness. A master craftsman, Arthur developed his trademark stout as an act of discipleship; a way to love God and neighbor. Readers will be amazed by the Guinness story. In an age of corporate irresponsibility and corruption, the Guinness story is one worth telling and retelling.

Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges—and Find Themselves by David L. Marcus (The Penguin Press). This unique book follows a year in the life of an award winning high school guidance counselor in Long Island, New York. Readers not only get a rare glimpse into the world of high school and college administration, but they also learn more about the world of today’s teenagers. The college admissions process can be stressful and tricky. Most parents want their kids to build a resume and get into the best school possible. But is this the best approach? According to the guidance counselor in this story, the college application process should be about finding the best “fit” and discovering who you are in the process. This book is both challenging and refreshing. It strongly challenges the American narrative for college (you go to college to get a degree to get a better job, etc.) and shows readers a better approach to understanding the college years.

The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, A Super Bowl, A Lesson for Life by Jeffrey Marx (HarperOne). Marx’s previous book, Season for Life, is one of my all-time favorites so you can imagine how excited I was to see this new release. Marx is an excellent writer with the ability to tell gripping stories. His latest book tells the story of former NFL longsnapper Brian Kinchen, a thirty-eight-year-old middle school Bible teacher who was shockingly called out of retirement by the New England Patriots on December 15, 2003. The Patriots were in desperate need of a proven long snapper as they headed into the playoffs and Kinchen was offered the position. The Long Snapper is not only about life in the NFL—although readers will never watch a game in the same way again—it is also about faith, family, and calling. It is a emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. Kinchen is placed in a very difficult and important position on the team and his faith and family pull him through. It’s an inspiring story that reads like a fairy tale. Only it’s true!

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller (Thomas Nelson). Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz was a mega-seller that created a large following. It took Miller a bit by surprise. All of the sudden he was a best-selling author, being invited to speak at a variety of venues. But an even bigger surprise soon followed. A movie producer wanted to make a movie about his life adapted from his books. Thinking his life was pretty boring, Miller began to view life through the lens of this question: What makes a good movie? He came to realize that the same things that make a good movie will make a good life. Intrigued? Well, the book is about how he came to that realization. In characteristic Miller style, the book is often funny, making humorous observations and asking good questions. But this book also has a more mature agenda, in a good way. Miller wants readers to re-examine their lives in hopes that they would move a little closer to finding their story as a part of God’s story.

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David Naugle (Eerdmans). Naugle invites readers to consider what they should aim for to obtain a truly “happy life.” He suggests that we need “not a hedonistic but an ‘edenistic’ happiness that roots the fullness of human life in God and his creation.” This type of happiness only comes when we learn to love the right things. “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.” Using illustrations from history, pop culture and Scripture, Naugle makes a strong case for how followers of Christ can (re)learn how to live a “happy” (properly defined), good life. The book is deep, but accessible, and would be good reading for parents and youth workers as they help young people better understand what true happiness really is. And, truth be told, the message of the book is one we all need to be continually reminded of: Our happiness is found in our love for God. Read an interview with Naugle here.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose (Grand Central Publishing). On April 1, 2009 I made a bold prediction that The Unlikely Disciple would win a Bookshelf Award. Well, it has. I continue to amaze myself! Roose grew up in a self-proclaimed “liberal” environment. After high school he attended Brown University, also known for liberal ideals. However, Roose was not convinced that he was receiving a well-rounded education and convinced his advisor to allow him to attend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The Unlikely Disciple chronicles Roose’s adventure, inviting reader’s to consider an outsider’s perspective on evangelical Christianity. Here’s the surprise: Evangelical Christianity is not what Roose expected. In fact, not only does he develop deep friendships with fellow students at Liberty, but he also discovers that the faith is not as shallow as he perceived. This book offers a fascinating window in the supposed cultures wars, suggesting that the gap between “red and blue states” may not be as wide as we think. Readers will also benefit from its unique perspective on current college student culture, revealing the hopes and dreams of young people in America today.

As I look over this list, I am reminded of the blessing that a good book can be. Numerous, thoughtful, engaging conversations were started or enhanced over the last year by discussing these books. It’s not easy to write a book and I am grateful that these authors took the time to teach us something meaningful about life in God’s world. Thank you, thank you, dear writers of good books, for your sacrifice, patience and courage.


tgrosh4 said...

Great list! I'll carry some over to my 2010 reading list.

You might be interested in my friend Mike's (Emerging Scholars Network) highlights Note: his whole list whole book list is posted at ...

Unknown said...

Great summaries, Derek. Made me want to read all of them!