Pastor Bob O'Bannon
With a little more than a week left until Christmas, and assuming there are still some people on your list to shop for, I offer my 10 favorite books of 2017, in no particular order.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “I haven’t even read the books I bought last year!” then please read “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read,” before you make any reckless or ill-advised decisions about not buying books this year. As Jessica Stillman tells us, "your overstuffed library isn't a sign of failure or ignorance, it's a badge of honor."
The books below were not necessarily released in 2017, but they are the ones that got my attention this past year.
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos Eire. Honest confession -- I am not done with this book yet. At 920 pages, it is a monster, and I ground to a halt at about p. 480, but I do hope to resume it later. It’s too good not to finish. Eire gives a thorough history of the Reformation, but tells the story in such compelling fashion that it moves forward quite effortlessly. If you’re interested in the Reformation, maybe start with Reeves’ book first (see below), then pick this up for more detail.
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, Michael Reeves. People intimidated by large books like Carlos Eire’s (above), and overwhelmed by the seemingly endless cluster of dates, kings, queens, popes, nations and battles that are typically stuffed in history books, will find that Reeves' book dispels their fears and might even make them a lover of history. Brief, sometimes funny, and very informative. (this title is available at New Life’s bookstore in the foyer, by the way).
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. At some point in our lives, all of us wonder about how we will die, and the more thoughtful and reflective among us will wonder if we will die well. That's really what this book is about. In the final months of his life, Dr. Kalanithi dedicated himself to writing about his experience, recording in sometimes uncomfortable detail the sorrow, pain, and beauty of how he faced his death with grace and integrity.
The Story of Reality, Greg Koukl. Koukl considers three aspects of reality that everyone should be able to agree upon: first, that something is wrong with the world; second, that there is a beauty about human beings that sets them apart; and third, that even though humans are beautiful, they are also broken. Koukl then poses this question: what account of reality explains these facts adequately? This leads him to present the Christian account of reality as the only satisfactory answer.
How to Listen to Jazz, Ted Gioia. There are so many people who love jazz, and who speak of it with such passion and devotion, that I have always concluded that my own indifference to the genre must be the fault of me, not the music. So I read this book, and while I wouldn’t now consider myself a “ jazz lover," I can say that now I regularly search for Bill Evans and Art Blakey records when I go vinyl hunting, and I definitely understand better how jazz requires a different kind of ear than other genres.
The Heart is the Target, Murray Capill. Sermons that are full of correct doctrine are not necessarily going to produce transformed people if preachers don’t give specific attention to how Biblical texts should be pressed upon people’s hearts. By expanding application to include not just what people should do, but how they should think, feel and evaluate themselves spiritually, Capill presents instruction that will leave the preacher with more application options than he has time to make.
How Jesus Runs the Church, Guy Prentiss Waters. Who would have thought there was so much scriptural foundation for the existence of sessions, presbyteries and general assemblies in the life of the church? Waters not only tells us it is so, but argues that church government is a critical part of Christian discipleship, and that “to be zealous for the government of the church is to prize and to cherish the reign of Jesus.” No, it’s not a riveting book, but it just might convince you to be a Presbyterian.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, Tim Keller. Using a plethora of quotations from numerous contemporary writers (how can Keller be so well-read?), mostly written from a secular worldview, Keller shows how a skeptical or godless worldview simply can't account for the world as we know it. "The arguments for God contend that belief in God makes more rational sense of the world than non-belief because it accounts for the data – what we see and know about the world.” Keller shows himself again to be the most persuasive and well-informed defender of the Christian faith today.
Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle. Simply put, this is one of the best books I've ever read on the basic tenets of living the Christian life. If it were not a little lengthy, I would give it to every new convert as a simple, clear, profound, theologically sound and practical examination of such topics as Bible reading, love, happiness, sickness, wealth, zeal and the afterlife. Written in the 19th century (don’t forget to include old books on your reading lists!), but still very relevant for the 21st.
The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. A controversial book because of the title’s suggestion that Christians should return to a monastic way of life, but that’s not really what Dreher calls for. The best way to respond to our cultural crisis, Dreher argues, is not for Christians to become more political, or for churches to become more hip, or for church members to become more isolated, but for Christians to live lives that are intentional, distinct, and set apart from the ways of the world, like soldiers who are constantly training for spiritual warfare.
So there you have it. All of these books I would recommend for your reading pleasures in 2018.
If time allows, and if I continue to be sufficiently interested in the months ahead, these are the books I’d like to read in 2018: How to be an (A)theist, Mitch Stokes; How Music Works, David Byrne; We Still Hold These Truths, Matthew Spalding; Unchanging Witness, Donald Fortson; John Adams, David McCullough; This is Where You Belong, Melody Warnick; Our Secular Age, Collin Hansen; Coming Apart, Charles Murray; There is a Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, Tony Fletcher; How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman.