Here is the Complete Books of the Year 2011 List (with Honorable Mentions). In reverse alphabetical order by name of author.
I read a number of good memoirs this year (Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Ian Cron, etc.) but Surprised by Oxford was my favorite. A beautifully written book about a student finding God while studying literature in Oxford. If you like books about books and memoirs that are as much about ideas as timeline, than you will like this. I also highly recommend Ian Cron’s Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me. I had a hard time deciding which I liked better. Cron’s book was very good and I really recommend it as well.
The idea of Sola Scriptura as many modern Evangelicals understand it is not what the original proponents of the idea were presenting. The bible is understandable, but that does not mean that every Christian can intuitively under the whole of scripture. Scripture requires study to understand. Walton has done the church a service by researching not only the original languages but the documents and culture of Ancient Near East (including Israel) and giving context to the scripture.
When issues of social change and theology interact their is often more emotion than useful discussion. Emotion has some use, but if it is only emotion then we can lose sight of theological implications. If it is only the intellectual aspects of theology then it is easy to miss the actual impact of people. Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery in John 8, took both the emotion of the situation (the women and the people that brought her him) and at the same time was still theologically accurate. I think the balance of this books does quite well balancing the emotion, the theology, the practical implications, the importance of scripture interpretation and more. Because this is a number of chapters by different people it is a good book to sample.
This was a completely random book choice. I had just been approved for Amazon Vine (Amazon’s reviewer program) and had a list of books to choose from. I like Economics, so I picked it. I had no idea it would be one of the best books of Economics (if not the best) I have ever read. This is not a traditional economics book, instead it is exploring the roots of economic thought and how we have changed our perception of what economics are, and what economics should be able to do, and what economics can know. It is a post-modern, deconstructed economics in the best sense. It is also very well written and very current, and considering it is written by a European Journalist/Former Advisor to Czech President, it is very focused on American examples. This may be because it is an American edition. But the examples are surprisingly current. If you have any interest in literature and economics I would pick this up.
This spot in the Books of the Year should really also be shared with Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation. They are both important books that in combination with John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One and NT Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God have really forced me to think about how I perceive, use and think about scripture. I am not at the end of my exploration of scripture and how we should be understanding and using it in our modern world. But I think that I have a better handle on how to proceed. These are very challenging books and I would encourage you to read them in a group because we are all necessarily limited and need the prompting of others to help us work through out scripture issues. If you want to explore scripture and how we should think about it, I would read these books in this order as a way to get started, Scripture and The Authority of God, The Lost World of Genesis One, Incarnation and Inspiration and then The Bible Made Impossible. Each have different issues and come at scripture in different ways. But taken as a whole are a good introduction.
The King Jesus Gospel has affected my thinking more than any other book this year except maybe The Lost World of Genesis One. While there are weaknesses with the King Jesus Gospel (a bit to much repetition, not enough practical application around evangelism), I believe that McKnight is completely correct in calling the church back to the main focus of the Gospel (Jesus Christ). Salvation is important, but salvation is an implication of Jesus Christ as King. This is an important book, it is one that I think everyone should read, it is written at a popular level and it is fairly short. If I picked one book of the year, this would be it. It is also on sale right now for $3.99 on Kindle.
This is probably a particularly good books to highlight near Christmas. Our world is changed by technology and in many ways we look to technology to make us better, give us more, solve our problems. God created us with the ability to create and use technology, but technology is neither all good nor all bad. Technology is both shaped by us, but also shapes us in often unexpected ways. Cell phones give us the ability to leave our homes, go to the park with our kids while we are on-call, but then we often spend the time talking or texting instead of playing at the park. I have read three books on how to think Christianly about technology this year, without any question From the Garden to the City is the best.
This is the one of the first books I read in 2011. And it actually came out in 2010, but still I think it is a book that more people need to read. The evangelical church needs to recover a sense of secular vocation and Culture Making presents that better than most that I have read. Andy Crouch is one of the most innovated thinkers of the modern Evangelical world and his new project with Christianity Today on the City and the Church continues to show that. You can see the roots of Culture Making in his current project. Culture Making is currently on sale for $3.99 on kindle, so pick it up.
This may be the most polarizing of the books I have on my 2011 Bookwi.se Books of the Year. Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions is a provocative book about why men and women, both married and single, need more cross gender friendships, not less. My wife and I have lead small groups for newly married couples for the past couple years. Different expectations and histories with cross gender friendships comes up regularly. I am convinced that healthy cross-gender friendships can do much to strengthen marriages. I have given away more copies of this than any other book this year. Even if you are skeptical about the concept I challenge you to read the book and give Brennan the chance to make the case.
Matthew Lee Anderson has given the evangelical church a real gift with this book. And like many gifts that are actually good for us, this book has not had the attention that it deserves. The physical body should be important to us because it is important to God. And ignoring the theology of the body is ignoring why God created us as physical human beings and came to earth himself as a physical human and was resurrected again with a physical body. I hope this is the start of a new focus on the theology of the body in the Evangelical world.
The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson (and a second review of the audiobook) – It is a strong sign of how good I feel that the top 10 list is that this book is not on the main list. I read it twice in six weeks after it came out and gave away a number of copies. It is a great book and well worth your time. If you are looking for a Christmas gift for a pastor in your life, that would be a good one.
Upside: The Surprising Good News About the State of Our World by Bradley Wright – There are too many Wrights that I enjoy reading right now (NT, Christopher, Bradley). This is a book that is intended to both correct the perception that everything is going downhill and to help us refocus on what really is important. Every time we spent time, effort and money on problems that are not important, it is less time, effort and money that we have to spend on issues that actually are important. My personal example is the TSA. Do you realize that we spend about 25 percent more on the TSA than we do on the entire Federal Court system? Having a good understanding (with good stats) really is important. This is also a book that will help you feel better about the world when you finish, not worse, which is always a good thing.
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs – If you love the read, this is book that you will love to read. Jacobs, one of the best essayists around, takes on reading. His main thesis is that we spend too much time worrying about what we ought to be reading and not enough time focused on the actual pleasure of reading.
Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill – This is currently on sale for $1.99. The reflections on sexuality, celibacy and same gender attraction are powerful regardless of whether you are gay or straight, single or married, celibate or not. Hill has a powerful understanding of God’s creation of sexuality precisely because he is writing as a celibate, gay Christian. I read a number of books on sex this past year and this is the one I would most recommend.
Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers – In general there is not a lot of debate about whether pornography is good for you or not within the Christian world. In spite of this, porn is a serious problem for both men and women, single and married. It is only going to become a larger problem. Struthers’ book is the only one that I have read that deals with both scriptural and sin issues of pornography and the actual physical/neurological/sexual problems that are created when a brain is exposed to porn. I wish there was more about women in this book, or that there was a follow up book that also discussed women. But in spite of this, I would encourage both men and women to read this book and work through seriously the real implications of porn.
NT Wright – Scripture and Authority of God (second reading), Simply Jesus, and The Challenge of Jesus – I have read a lot of NT Wright this year (more books by NT Wright than any other author this year). But these three are all very important to my on-going project of really understanding how we both take seriously a life submitted to the Lordship of Christ, the real Christ not just the comfortable one we have a picture of, and how we read and properly understand scripture. The biggest insight for me from Scripture and Authority is that scripture has authority because it is God’s word. It authority is not its own, but a reflection of the authority of God. This may not be revolutionary but it is very important. The two books on Jesus were also important for me to work through the importance of a ‘Christological Hermeneutic’. I believe next year I am going to spend some serious time exploring the implications of the trinity. But Wright has left me in good stead with Jesus.
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews – I picked this up on a whim and was shocked how much I enjoyed it. I will definitely get the next volume when it is out. Julie Andrews is a very good author and an even better narrator (I listened to this on audiobook). It only goes until just before she started filming Mary Poppins (right after the birth of her first daughter.