Ever since reading Louis L'Amour's Education of a Wandering Man when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I've been keeping lists of the books I've read each year. For the past several years, I've also been writing some version of a Top 10 or Best of list. I enjoy reading such lists from other friends and usually discover new titles to read and explore.
These are not necessarily books that were published this year, but rather my favorites from the books I read this year.
10. The Spirit and the Letter, Saint Augustine. One of my friends and conversation partners recommended this treatise from Augustine for his insights on the relationship between law and gospel, old covenant and new. I read John Burnaby's translation in the Library of Christian Classics edition of Augustine's Later Works. Very good.
9. The Road to Character, David Brooks. I actually haven't completed it yet, but after reading most of Brooks' thoughtful commentary on the 2016 Presidential election, I decided to buy his best-selling treatment of ethics. Brooks begins by contrasting two sorts of virtues, what he calls resumé virtues and eulogy virtues, and then builds his study of the latter around biographical sketches of historical figures as varied as George Eliot, Francis Perkins, Johnny Unitas, and Saint Augustine. After an election season where character seemed to matter less than ever before, this is an important book for everyone.
8. John Owen and English Puritanism: Studies in Defeat, Crawford Gribben. This biography of my favorite dead theologian (or maybe second favorite, see #1 below) is both a study of a man and an era. It was both informative and interesting, providing new insight into the overall character of Owen's life and ministry. Gribben has done for Owen what Peter Brown did for Augustine, George Marsden did for Edwards, and Bruce Gordon did for Calvin.
7. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’Kempis. There are definitely some theological problems with this pre-Reformation, medieval Catholic devotional classic. But read with discernment, it is helpful in many ways. It made me love Christ more and want to be more like him, and that makes it a book worth reading and re-reading.
6. Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God's Word and Keep People Awake, Gary Millar and Phil Campbell. This is a refreshing and helpful book on preaching that lives up to its wonderful title! There are many books on preaching that help preachers with theology, exegesis, and exposition. But this book, while refusing to downplay the importance of these things, is particularly helpful on delivery. (And I think I’m preaching a little better now than I was at this time last year.)
5. The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Discipleship, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. Like Saving Eutychus, this excellent book was published by our Aussie friends at Matthias Media. It is, hands down, the best manual on discipleship in the local church I have seen. I plan to use it with our church leaders in the coming months and years.
4.Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne, edited by Andrew Bonar. I'm pretty sure I've now read every page of this magnificent collection of diaries, sermons, pastoral letters, personal letters, mission reports, poems, communion meditations, and more from this saintly nineteenth century pastor from Scotland. M'Cheyne used to pray, "Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can become" and often counseled people, "For every one look at self, take ten looks at Christ." Few volumes in my library have as consistently nourished my soul as this one. I feel sure I'll return to it again and again through the rest of my life.
3. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith. This is a popularly written, more accessible version of Smith’s earlier book, Desiring the Kingdom. Smith argues that we are embodied beings pulled along by our desires, not just thinking things or "brains on a stick." Christian education and spiritual formation, therefore, require something more than a data dump. Information alone will not a genuine disciple make. We must also attend to our hearts, our desires, our habits, and the liturgies of our culture. I will be reflecting on this book for a long time.
2. The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, John Owen. This was my second time through Owen's soul-searching analysis of spiritual thoughts and affections. Convicting, yet nourishing.
1. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, edited by J. T. McNeill. Calvin's Institutes is profound, lyrical, and worshipful -- devotional theology at it's best. I first started the Institutes back in 2001, but didn't finish it. I picked it up again in 2008 or 2009, working through most of Books 2-3. A couple of years ago, I read about half of Book 4. And I've dipped in and out of the Institutes, reading some sections here and there (especially in Books 2-3) multiple times. But in July of this year, I decided to take the Institutes with me for a study leave. I read most of Books 1-3 in July, then took the rest of the year to finish Books 3-4. I'm so glad I did. Easily my favorite book of the year. And I can hardly wait to read it again.