Each year I round up the best books I have read that year. This year I am doing it in three posts. Earlier I posted about my favorite fiction books that I read this year. Later I will post about the favorite biographies/memoirs I read this year. This post is about the best non-fiction I read (that were not a biography or memoir.) These are not in a particular order.
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence is an international development/poverty reduction book. It is a good example of how looking at a problem systemically can alter the way we address it. Evangelicals tend to be focused on the immediate and not the systemic, so even if you are not particularly interested in global poverty reduction or the importance of building justice systems around the world, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros’s well developed argument is a sterling example of why systemic issues are so important.
The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam McHugh has been on my radar for a long time. I follow McHugh on twitter and his first book, Introverts in the Church was very influential on me (and pre-dated the rash of other introvert books.)
The Listening Life looks at the variety of ways that we listen (or should be listening.) I am not a great listener. This book is not really a how-to book, but a why book. We should be listening because it is part of how we love, it is part of how God models love to us and it is the root of how we learn. As I said in my review, the chapter on listening to people in pain should be essential reading for anyone that is a pastor or small group or bible study leader.
Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality – David Benner is a counselor and spiritual director. I do not want to project my issues on others inappropriately, but I have found the process of spiritual direction helpful. This book is not about spiritual direction, but I think Benner uses his background as a counselor and spiritual direction to write a short but powerful book about God as love. The edition I read is an new edition re-released this year. The original was released in 2003 and is part of a trilogy of books. I have the other two books from the trilogy and will read them this year.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible is a great example of why ‘the plain meaning’ of scripture approach is severely limited as a bible reading method. It is not that we should only read scripture through the eye of scholars, but we should include scholars as part of our normal learning about scripture. Primarily this is a book about anthropology and culture. It is highly readable and I think very helpful to better understanding scripture. It would also make a good book for small group discussion.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is not a standard book for me. Atul Gawande is a surgeon and author of several books. I picked this up in January after it was on several best of 2014 book lists. Gawande is not a Christian (I believe he is a non-practicing Buddhist), but this book makes a good argument that medicine as it is currently practiced does not think enough about end of life issues. The book is enhanced by his own experience of dealing with his father’s end of life issues. Even as a doctor, the variety of options and needed decisions was overwhelming. The book discusses the ethics of different treatment (and non-treatment) options as well as many of the medical structures for end of life (hospice, nursing homes, assisted care, etc) and how families should talk about and prepare for end of life.
The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation is outside of my normal reading. If I were a regular graphic novel/comic book reader I do not know if this would make a top book or not. I am unfamiliar enough with the range of graphic novels to speak knowledgeably, but I did appreciate the history presentation and I think that these types of alternative presentations are great ways to get more people interested in both reading and history.
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ is a book I am revisiting after several years. Eugene Peterson is one of my spiritual writing heroes that I enjoy coming back to over and over again and this is my second favorite of his book (second only to his memoir Pastor). As with many of Peterson’s books, Peterson takes a portion of scripture (in this case Ephesians) and deals with a theme (here the role of the church in spiritual development). Many books talk about spiritual development or the church but this is the one that I think best makes the case for why we as Christians need to be involved in the church for our own spiritual development.
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is not a great book. I waffled on including it here because this is the first time I have finished the book, but the third or fourth time I have started it. I am a fan of NT Wright, but this is an example of Wright writing out of passion not academic specialty. Wright may be on of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world, but he is also a pastor and this is a book of pastoral wisdom. He is trying to write to young (or growing) Christians about why they need to view the on going growth of their faith as important. And how to do that once you agree that it is important. I think this is an important area and while this is not a book that I would recommend to everyone, it was helpful to me.