Top ten lists like this one are often somewhat arbitrary (hence my photo choice). My unscientific reasoning for these choices is actually based on the ‘wow factor’ of how a book changed my thinking and echoed in my mind after reading. I’m hoping this list will recommend a book or two for you to dig into in 2018. (See my full 2017 reading list on GoodReads. Also see my top reads of 2015 or 2013. Not sure what happened in 2014!)
Update: I don’t know how I left The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’s Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin off this list(!?). It definitely would have made top ten. Read my review on the Gospel Coalition for more on this great book.
1. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections by Sam Storms and Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
I first read the classic Religious Affections on my boss’s recommendation because it is a foundational text for our ministry. By God’s grace, I trekked through the thick tome and was blown away by Edwards’ insight into true vs. false spiritual transformation. In Religious Affections, Edwards shares 12 signs of the Spirit at work in someone’s life and 12 non-signs that do not necessarily point to spiritual transformation. Reading Edwards thick prose is tough, and for that reason, I bought Sam Storm’s more accessible summary of Religious Affections as a follow-up. Storms brought clarity and insight while applying Edwards’ conclusions to the 21st-century context. I am grateful for Edwards for his insights and Storms for clarifying several points. That’s why these books share the top spot.
2. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke
From my review: “As the title suggests, Reinke chronicles 12 of the main ways our phones are changing us. All of our technology changes us in some way; much for the better as it lives out its intended purpose, but as we stray from the purpose of our devices, they have the habit of creeping into more and more of our lives and creating/exposing idols. That’s what makes this book so important for both Christian discipleship and understanding our tech-obsessed culture.”
This book (which John MacArthur called a ‘monumental’ read) first released in 2000 was quite the eye-opener. Murray writes on major events in the second half of the twentieth century of evangelicalism and how they have shaped evangelicalism for the worse. He includes critiques of Billy Graham’s ministry (specifically his ecumenism), Evangelicals and Catholics Together (specifically J.I. Packer’s involvement), compromises on the inerrancy of Scripture by evangelical scholars, the rift that separated John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and several other developments. Andy Naselli provides a more helpful overview.
Murray states a central critique as this: “The case of this book has been that for over a hundred years a sustained attempt has been made to popularize a definition of Christian which possesses no biblical authority at all” (299). Or, in other words, if we don’t take seriously the question “Who is a Christian?” with utmost seriousness, we enter into dangerous territory even if we had well-intentioned reasoning. While I appreciate the heck out of this book, it seems a little one-sided with Murray being a Lloyd-Jones guy and all. (Although after reading the book, I have even more respect for Lloyd-Jones.) I found Roger Beckwith’s review (himself a friend of Packer and Stott) of this book helpful in balancing Murray.
This comic book style book gives a behind-the-scenes view of the storytelling process of many great podcasts like This American Life, 99% Invisible, and Radiolab. I learned a lot from this about all facets of the creative process. Perhaps my biggest takeaway is the value of asking the question, “What surprised you about ____________?” This question provides double the value by revealing both initial expectations and how things actually played out.
As a white evangelical and long-term member of a mainly white evangelical church, I haven’t always had the best perspective on racial issues popping up in the news. This book by Ken Wystma (another white evangelical) helped fill me in with historical and practical aspects of racial injustice and white privilege. Though I didn’t agree with all of Wystma’s conclusions, I was challenged and moved to grief over how much injustice seems to permeate everyday life. Listen to this talk by Wystma for a sneak peek into his heart.
I suspect this book will be a game-changer for many families. He doesn’t so much lay out the “how to” on protecting your family and kids from the wiles of devices and the internet, but rather shares a much-needed paradigm for thinking about technology. Read about keeping technology in its proper place.
7. This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax
From my review: “This is Our Time is a book for any Christian who wants to understand western culture in light of the gospel. Wax’s strong storytelling abilities beautifully illustrate the longings of human hearts and the solution in the gospel. (I won’t soon forget the story of Wax’s father-in-law walking into a church as a communist informant and walking out a born-again believer.) Since, as Tim Keller says, “it is…impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols,” this book also provides special value for pastors seeking to reach their culture. You can only preach to the heart when you know the yearnings of your people.”
8. Communion with God by John Owen
I love the Owen Puritan Paperbacks. This is no exception. Perhaps its greatest contribution is the reminder that communing with God is not some mystical thing to drum up, but something that happens as we trust God’s promises and pray to Him. We don’t need advanced techniques for drawing near.
8. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim
This is a popularization of Beale’s NSBT volume The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (listen to lecture). Read this book for a greater awe of the Bible’s overall story and how it reveals God’s desire to dwell with His people.
I love Reader’s Bibles and I really like the new CSB translation. (It might even be my favorite English translation!) Read my review to find out why.
10. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
This Lewis title brought my wife and me back into the magic of Narnia. I loved how Lewis showed the strange and gracious providence in the life of the protagonist Shasta–something that caused me to reflect thankfully and worship reverently. I’m hoping 2018 will be the year I read the last couple Narnia books I haven’t read yet.
Runners Up: Encouraged to Pray by Charles Spurgeon, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy (see my review).
Use my list of 50+ Notable 2018 Christian Books to plan your reading year.