It’s hard to believe that another reading year has come to an end. There were certainly some great books again last year. It’s always difficult to choose favorites, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to ten once again. I’m pleased to see that I selected three novels this time. I enjoy reading novels and have crazy dreams of trying to write one someday. (I’m sure you haven’t heard that before!) So, here we go: My top 10 books of 2010 listed alphabetically by author:
Imagination in Place by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint Press). I noted before that I love Berry’s novels and enjoy his poetry, but have been less drawn to his essays. I know he is a fine essayist, some say the best alive today, but I’d rather dig into one of his works of fiction or reflect on one of his poems. Imagination in Place, however, was different. I think it was the autobiographical nature of these essays. Berry reflects on the people and places that have influenced his writing the most. Humility marks every page. The final essay “God, Science and Imagination” is worth the price of the book. He writes, “[Imagination] is the power by which we see the place, predicament, or the story we are in.” Beautiful.
Back on Murder: A Roland March Mystery by J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House). I’ve gotten to know Mark a little bit over the past few years and I was excited to read this book long before it was published. My plan was to read it while on vacation in July, but my dad starting reading it first and wouldn’t give it back! I eventually read it, and raved about it online and dreamed about the characters. It’s a three part series and I can’t wait for the next one! Mark is a good writer and the book received many positive reviews. Thoughtful, gripping and quite entertaining.
Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press). Dean offers deeper analysis into the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) from a Christian perspective. While the book Soul Searching, Christian Smith’s groundbreaking report of the NSYR, attempted to be a “neutral,” sociological study, Dean responds to the data from a more distinctly Christian angle. According to Dean (and the NSYR), the majority of the teenagers in our churches live life based on a moralistic, therapeutic, deist (MTD) worldview, which they have learned from watching their parents. “Nurturing faith in young people means investing in the faith of their parents and congregations.” She sees the “MTD problem” as being deep and church-wide. This is a must read for all who care about nurturing teenagers in the faith.
Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by David Downing (Ignatius Press). This book would easily win the award for best trailer of the year as well. Wow. Downing is a professor at the small college up the street and it has been a privilege to get to know him. A world renowned C.S. Lewis scholar, in his first novel he takes a shot at crafting a suspenseful mystery where the main characters come in contact with the Inklings, Lewis’s group of friends in Oxford, including Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien. You don’t have to be a Lewis fan to enjoy the story, but if you are, you will be gripped by the conversations and British settings.
The Confession by John Grisham. Earlier in the year I wrote of how Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill changed my life. Well, it had a major part to play in my marriage, anyway! Grisham’s latest novel could be life changing for other reasons. Without giving the plot away, in this powerful book, Grisham forces readers to think more deeply about our court system and the death penalty. It’s not an easy book to read but it’s worth it.
Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church by Gary Parrett and Steve Kang (Intervarsity Press). This is a massive, 450+ page book that I enjoyed on every page. My work as the director of the College Transition Initiative requires me to think and speak about developing in young people a faith that lasts. I’m also a young father, so that question is also pressing in other areas of life as well. This book was very informative, challenging the church to be more intentional in its Christian education. It connects learning to the biblical story, going into much depth as to what the church ought to teach and provides numerous, practical suggestions on how to disciple all ages.
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans). With this book, Peterson’s widely successful and deeply formative “conversations in spiritual theology” series comes to a close. The final installment discusses maturing in Christ, the church and provides insightful (as always!) commentary on the book of Ephesians. I loved it and savored it, reading a few pages a day over several months. Challenging, provocative, satisfying. Peterson continues to serve the Church he loves with passion, patience and grace.
Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition by James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press). Reformed theology has been becoming more and more popular in North American Christianity. With many “emerging” churches chasing after innovations and the latest way to re-imagine/invent/think itself, the “New-Calvinists” look back to the reformation for inspiration, calling the church to deeper theological training, especially in regards to the historical doctrines and creeds. There are many positive aspects of this movement, but Smith wants to proceed with caution. He argues that the “new-Calvinism” focuses too much on TULIP and individual salvation and misses the broader perspective that Calvin himself emphasized. This collection of fictitious letters is an engaging read and a much needed voice in contemporary, Calvinist conversations.
The Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story by John Sowers (Zondervan). The first half of the book paints a bleak picture of fatherlessness in America. Thirty-three percent of youth—over 25 million kids—grow up without a dad. According to Sowers “the fatherless boy lives with the nagging accusation that he will never be adequate, never measure up, never really be a man.” And, “while our fatherless sons rage, our fatherless daughters decay. Driven by a crippling sense of unworthiness and a gnawing hunger for Dad, they are emotionally and sexually promiscuous.” But there is hope. The second half of the book is an urgent plea for churches to invest in intentional mentoring programs. Sowers forces us to open our eyes to the devastating crisis of fatherlessness. It is pervasive. And because it affects everyone in some way, everyone should read this book. If you come from a fatherless background this book will help you to make sense of your situation. Youth workers should read this book in order to better understand how to serve the fatherless in their congregations and communities. And, finally, fathers should read this book to be reminded of the importance and challenge of being a faithful dad.
Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott by Roger Steer (Intervarsity Press). I’m a big fan of John Stott. His theology continues to undergird much of my approach to issues of faith and culture. Steer writes an engaging and inspiring biography of Dr. Stott. He takes readers on an adventure into the life of one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century. Stott has quite a legacy and it is worth knowing about in detail. We are indebted to Steer for his time in writing the story of a man everyone should know.