Top Reads of 2013

booksAs I (and most other bloggers) do near the end of every year, here is a list of my top reads for 2013.

Actually, I’ve split the list into 2 groups of five books. The first 5 books are ones I completed this year. The second group consists of books I have not yet finished, but ones I am currently reading or have dipped into over the past months.

Where possible, I’ll leave links to my reviews so you can get a better glimpse of the books if desired.

1. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. Within evangelicalism, we have a history of strongly holding the Bible, or Holy Scripture, as God’s great written revelation of himself. That’s a great thing! And while the Bible can seem quite clear (or perspicuous, to use a theological term) for many Christians, it’s actually not always so clear – right from Genesis through to Revelation. Thus, Richards and O’Brien take us on a journey to show how Scripture isn’t as clear as we thought on particular matters, specifically due to our western “cultural blinders.” I posted 5 articles, looking at some of the topics covered in their chapters.

2. The Virtue of Dialogue by Christopher Smith. This short e-book (37 pages) provides some helpful thoughts on what can help stir a local church towards being a faithful community together. The simple practice of dialogue, or conversation, at their Sunday evening service led Smith’s church towards greater Christlikeness – both with the church community itself and in reaching the local neighborhood. This book recounts that story and some of the things learned in the process. Here is my short blurb about the book.

3. A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. Popular blogger, Evans, released her second book in 2012. Everyone and their mama posted articles and reviews about the book within a few short months. Maybe only Rob Bell’s Love Wins received more attention. I was a tad late to the game. Overall, I would summarize the book’s thesis as this: Rachel Held Evans challenges the typical way in which many Christians utilize the word biblical as an adjective, especially when attaching it to another intriguing word, womanhood. And she does this through the literary device known as satire. I believe she makes some good and challenging points of which many conservative evangelicals should take note. My in-depth review can be found here.

4. The Grace Outpouring by Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts. This unique book tells the story of Ffald-y-Brenin, a prayer retreat center nestled in the hills of Wales, UK. It’s the story of how Roy Godwin and his wife, Daphne, came to lead the center, as well as recounting many of the remarkable encounters they and others have had with the Holy Spirit while at Ffald-y-Brenin. The book truly stirred my soul, creating a deeper thirst for more of God’s powerful work through the Spirit. Here is my review.

5. The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Hinders Us by John Eldredge. I’ve read all but one of Eldredge’s books. I remember when I came into contact with his first book, The Sacred Romance (at that time co-authored by Brent Curtis, close friend and ministry partner of Eldredge, who was killed in a climbing accident not too long after the book’s release). It was a breath of fresh air in comparison with many other Christian devotional/spirituality books of the late 1990′s and early 2000′s. He quickly became a favorite author of mine, though some of his latter books seemed a bit repetitive to earlier books. This particular book takes a bit of a different look at the concept of holiness. And we truly need some fresh readings on such oft-repeated topics like holiness. Here are some brief thoughts I shared after reading through ch.1.

6. Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media by Quentin Schultze. I read this book back in my seminary days for a class entitled Communicating the Gospel. I enjoyed it then and I am enjoying it once again. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m re-reading the book, as it will be the main text for a class I’ll soon be teaching entitled Public Communication. Schultze’s main thesis is to show how God has called us to co-create a culture of justice and shalom through the avenue of communication. We’re all involved in communicating – even when we don’t think we are. So I’d recommend this book to each and all.

7. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. I very much appreciate Wright’s works. Wright might be the foremost New Testament historical theologian of today. This particular book is volume 2 in his massive series known as Christian Origins and the Question of God. Many will be aware of his most recent publication in the series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. At 741 pages, Jesus and the Victory of God is no devotional. It is a very thorough, historical and theological treatise. And it gives a great understanding into the “New Testament world” of Jesus and the Jewish people of the first century.

8. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith. Though I’ve only read a couple chapters, this work brought out some very good thoughts on the concept of education (or what we might call “discipleship” or “mentoring”). Smith is a profound thinker, and I recognized this in his book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism (a superb book, by the way!). Jamie Smith has a heart to help shape people in the emerging postmodern world of today. Thus, in Desiring the Kingdom, Smith challenges the notion of shaping a Christian worldview by simply producing “thinking machines.” Rather, we are holistic people and we have been created with desire at the core of who we are. If you want to educate, stir people’s desire.

9. Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives by Peter Bouteneff. I am no scientist or biologist. But what I do enjoy is thinking theologically in connection with developing scientific data, especially considering wholesome Christian theology in light of the positive prospect of evolutionary creation – God created through the means of what science identifies as “evolution.” It might sound anti-Christian to think such, but I posit that would be a strong overreaction. We’re scared of the prospect that the Scripture might not be as literal as we thought, or that good science might have some positive things to offer in the discussion of understanding origins. I was made aware of the book, Beginnings, from another Christian blogger who is also a scientist. The book basically looks at the varying theological understandings of the early chapters of Genesis. Right throughout church history, a “plain” and “literal” reading of those chapters has never been the only available reading. Bouteneff discusses this in his book. Check out this post of mine with some introductory thoughts.

10. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In previous years, I might not have enjoyed Manning so much. To focus on people as simply broken ragamuffins, well it doesn’t sound so “victorious”. But if there is one thing I am certain of these days, not even needing a strong theological supporting argument, is that we are broken and we live in a broken world. I look at my life, the lives of my extended family and the lives of those around me, and I am certain we are broken ragamuffins in desperate need of the grace of God. The beautiful, redeeming, restoring grace of God. Brennan Manning reminds us of this in his classic. Here are some brief words I posted on the book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.

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8 thoughts on “Top Reads of 2013

      • Btw, just to make a point, there is more agreement with many Dispensationalists, from Classic to Progressive, noting people like Darrel Bock, etc.(Even old E.W. Bullinger’s overt Ultradispensationalism, has much classic dispensational places) Than in the area of old Tom Wright and HIS own neo-theological positions. And Wright’s political views (especially toward America) are truly from again his own High Tower! (Little to none real experience here, save a liberal Brit). My thoughts at least, and I have my own experience in the trenches for sure!

  1. You will have no problem guessing my reaction to the works you have here presented Scott. I had one of my usual hilarious snarky white glove slaps on the way, but decided instead to simply wish you a happy new year.

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