My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2017. Other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. At nearly 900 pages, this Canadian philosopher’s magnum opus is not an easy read. But Taylor helps us make sense of the age we’re living in, and helps Christian leaders understand how to talk to those on the streets (and in the pews) living in this secular age. Several of the books on the rest of this list engage with Taylor’s seminal work.
How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, by James KA Smith. A good introduction before reading Taylor, and a good guide while you’re reading Taylor. Don’t treat it as the Cliff’s Notes summary and skip out on actually reading Taylor, though.
The Still Hour by Austin Phelps. An old book on prayer.
That Hideous Strength, Book Three in the C.S. Lewis science fiction trilogy. I read the series in college, and returned to it in late 2016. I completed the third book in 2017.
Tenth of December, by George Saunders. After Lincoln in the Bardo, I went to his back catalog and found this collection of short stories.
To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davidson Hunter. An important voice in the current evangelical re-examination of how to impact the world.
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. An important voice in the current evangelical re-examination of how to impact the world–or how to strategically withdraw from it, as the case may be. My review here.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Tim Keller. I read this when it came out in 2016 (my review here), but re-read it after reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Keller references Taylor heavily throughout the book. This may not end up being as popular as his The Reason for God, but I recommend it for Christian leaders trying to figure out how to communicate faith in a secular age.
Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes. Well-written exploration of the author’s fear of death. As an atheist, he’s convinced intellectually that there is nothing beyond his short term on this earth, but it still troubles him. Thus, a double meaning in the title. Smith (referenced in this list above), recommends the book as an excellent example of what Charles Taylor describes as living “cross-pressured,” not completely at ease with one’s metaphysical conclusions. But even if you don’t plan to read Taylor, you should read Barnes. Even better, share the book with a non-believing friend for a good discussion.
The Sword in the Stone (audiobook), by TH White.
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat (audiobook), by Giles Milton.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. How does a physician face dying, and how does a Christian face death? Beautiful.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, by Nabeel Qureshi. Really good account of a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity. I only found Qureshi’s writing in 2017, and he died of cancer as a young man a month after I finished this. You should get it in the audiobook version to more easily follow the Arabic quotes read in Qureshi’s voice.
Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home by Alan Graham. Most Austinites are familiar with Mobile Loaves and Fishes and the Community First Village. Here’s the story behind it. Graham is an excellent example of Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”)
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. Published posthumously. Entertaining as a Crichton work usually is.
The World to Come by Jim Shepard. A collection of short stories.
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. The story of one of the first attempts to sail to the North Pole.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candace Millard. A fascinating look at a little-known incident in American history. I will have to look for other books by Millard after reading this one.
Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, by Larry Hurtado. Hurtado explains Christianity’s improbable rise to become the dominant Near Eastern faith as Rome collapsed. And, regarding the divinity of Christ, far from being a late development in Christian history, Hurtado shows how the very earliest Christians regarded Christ as divine.
99 Poems, by Dana Gioia
Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor. Various writers, edited by Collin Hansen. The year began with Charles Taylor, and it ended with this collection of essays by various Christian writers on how to apply Taylor’s observations to life and ministry.
Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, by Mark Yarhouse. Absolutely essential reading to understand gender dysphoria. This book would have been higher on the list but I wish he had fleshed out the “Integrity Framework” a little better. (Watch this 12-minute video I posted of Yarhouse explaining the three “frameworks” people use to understand gender dysphoria.)
Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear. A quick read from someone who worked in President Obama’s faith-based office and saw the successes and failures.
Hammer is the Prayer: Selected Poems, by Christian Wiman
The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration.
Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective, by Mark Amstutz. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration. Amstutz was scheduled as a panelist for our Forum but when Hurricane Harvey forced us to reschedule the event, Amstutz couldn’t make it. Too bad: I think his voice is needed in this debate.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (audiobook), by David Grann
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, by David McCullogh. Get it in the audiobook format and let McCullogh read it to you.
There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, by Ali Noorani. I read this in preparation for our Hillcrest Civil Forum on immigration.
When the English Fall by David Williams. Though Williams very likely didn’t intend this work as fictional engagement with The Benedict Option (mentioned earlier in this list), you could read it as a companion to Dreher’s work. How can we be a faith community for each other and for the outside world when things fall apart?
Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas. Get it in the audiobook format so you can hear the original addresses by the various guests to the Socrates in the City program.
Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters. What if slavery in the American South had never been abolished?
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. It’s an unexpectedly–and probably unintentionally–prolife story. I don’t typically read romance novels, but this one was pretty well done. I should probably rank it higher on the list, except for some improbable scenarios. (An old captain remembering the exact location of a notorious incident? A gangster using diving equipment for the first time, in the dark, to return to that notorious incident? The two romantic leads talking with each other in that dark water by putting their diving helmets together? Really?)
Sweet Ruin, poems by Tony Hoagland
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, poems by Tony Hoagland
Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, Bill Moyers. A transcript of his interviews with several poets.
Madness: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Scull. You should scan through the “Very Short Introduction” series. Intriguing selections. I have Richard Baucham’s Jesus: A Very Short Introduction queued up for 2018.
Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God (audiobook), by Dallas Willard. Willard’s last public event. I find the United Presbyterian philosopher too liberal on some points, but he needs to be included in any discussion on how to deepen Christian discipleship.
Speaking of Faith, by Krista Tippett. You should get it in the audiobook format, since it’s a series of interviews from her NPR show. As to the evangelicals she invites on her show, it’s not surprising that a left-leaning journalist would privilege the types of evangelicals, and the types of evangelical opinions, that she prefers. But if the goal is to better understand each other, readers/listeners would be better served by a fuller presentation of evangelical convictions (especially those positions that liberals wouldn’t like) from those more widely regarded as spokespersons for those convictions.
God and the Transgender Debate, by Andrew T Walker. I mentioned higher on the list that Yarhouse didn’t explain the “Integrity Framework” as well as I had hoped. So, I went looking for a book that did. This one helps.
The Man in the High Castle, by Philip Dick
Engendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, by Sam Andreades.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. The book is entertaining enough to gain a higher rating. But the gist of the book is that going back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination would have kept us from the tragedy of Vietnam. That’s less believable than time travel.
Rumours of Glory: A Memoir, by Bruce Cockburn. I’ve liked a lot of his music over the years. Can I still like his music after being so disappointed by the subject of this autobiography?
The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson
Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. It had the potential to explore the hypocrisies of the human heart, but it fell short.
Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane. Just could not get a care about the characters to rise up by a third of the book, so I abandoned it.
Lists from Previous Years
(You can access the “Books Read” lists from 2009-2012, but the links on those page take you to a blog I no longer update.)