I am a big reader. Reading is a valuable part of my daily desire to grow in knowledge and grow in grace. You’ve probably seen a book review here or there on my page or at Servantsofgrace. I have the privilege of reading a lot, and I recently outlined some of my principles for doing so in another piece I’ve written.
I am often asked about book suggestions, so I wanted to take an opportunity to outline twelve of my favorites from 2016 to commend to you. With Christmas right around the corner, these would all make excellent additions to your library for 2017. This list will contain a good mix of books by genre, size, and difficulty, though all of them fall under the umbrella of non-fiction Christian. I can personally vouch for each one as having read them, so I would encourage you to consider picking some of these great resources up for the new year if a couple (or a few, or all!) spark your interest.
BOOK OF THE YEAR
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit — James K.A. Smith
In June I said, “It is definitely the best book I have read this year, and I am sure it will stay at the top of my list.” Here I am in December, feeling much of the same. The writing is superb, the voice is clear, and the ease of it all was a bit shocking given just how packed and dense it truly is. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith has brilliantly made the case for the centrality of the heart and our loves and how they direct our rhythms and patterns and habits of living. This is a book that every reader can benefit from as Smith’s retrieval of Augustinian “love” has implications for pastoral ministry, discipleship, holiness, and practical theology. To read a full review, check out this link.
How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough — Mitch Stokes & J.P. Moreland
Skeptics and Christians alike should take some time to read Stokes’s new book, because it desires that we be consistent in our beliefs, whatever they are, and illustrates our need to return to the arguments themselves instead of relying on being volatile towards those of other beliefs. Stokes’s research and thought is chock full of illustrations and metaphors to make the material easily understandable and logical.
The Church: A Theological and Historical Account — Gerald Bray
Here’s what The Church does so well. Bray does a wonderful job of highlighting the major movements, while also getting to the ground level and taking us into the timeline, seeing how theology and culture developed along the way as time went on. He uses a chronological survey of the development of the church, from the Old and New Testaments, through the Protestant Reformation and into our context, to build us into the big crescendo of “now what?”
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance — Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters — Sinclair Ferguson
If I had to pick a runner-up for Book of the Year, this would likely be the one. It is rare to find a book that combines this level of academic richness with a tone that is accessible and applicable to every Christian reader. Ferguson’s The Whole Christ plumbs the depths of the doctrines of legalism, antinomianism, holiness, union with Christ, and Christian assurance. Centered around Edward Fisher’s controversial treatise, Marrow of Modern Divinity, Ferguson has labored to bring us an unequaled, unparalleled examination of these themes, and has succeeded.
Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, And Loving Those Who Differ — Andy Naselli & J.D. Crowley
I read this book in its entirety in one sitting. It was that good. I couldn’t put it down. The combination of new, insightful material on a neglected subject, mixed with honest conversation and practical tips and help makes for a wonderful read. Naselli and Crowley have partnered together to bring us one of the most important books you could read all year.
Embracing Followership: How To Thrive In a Leader-Centric Culture — Allen Hamlin Jr.
This book was written not merely to inform the follower, but to equip him as well. There are some chapters devoted entirely to equipping the follower with tools and suggestions, such as chapter 11 with a focus on personal development. This book intends to be comprehensive in nature, addressing how the follower views himself, the leader he works under, and his fellow followers, and how the leader should view him. It’s a wide-angle look into the world of followership, and it is a truly empowering resource for those who find themselves in positions of being a follower.
Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling — Jared C. Wilson
Here’s what you need to know about Unparalleled: it is arguably Wilson’s most readable and clear presentation of the core doctrines of the gospel message all tied into one. Wilson is an artist gifted enough to write on many subjects, and in a lot of ways he draws from his other books to help them build his points in Unparalleled. I would go as far as to say that the book itself is unparalleled among Wilson’s others. Whether you’re trying to discern the tangible differences between Christianity and other religions, or want to learn how to better put words to your arguments for many of the central tenants of Christianity, do not hesitate to pick up this book.
Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity — Kevin J. Vanhoozer
There is a reason Babel is highly endorsed. This work on biblical authority and the five solas of the Reformation is a refreshing, winsome, and careful exploration of answering the critics against Protestant biblical interpretation with Reformation essentials. This book is weighty, and you’re always going to get scholarship from Vanhoozer’s work. But it is both highly informative and important.
Political Church: The Local Assembly As Embassy Of Christ’s Rule — Jonathan Leeman
In Political Church, Jonathan Leeman, noted ecclesiologist and scholar, helps us define our terms, such as “politics” and “institutions,” and helps us see how the Church was meant to fit into this “redrawn map” (21), “mediating…God’s covenantal rule” in the world (50). In an age that needs a healthy understanding of politics in an ecclesial sense, I can think of no better book to recommend than Leeman’s work.
ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set — Crossway
It is my belief that the six-volume edition of the ESV Reader’s Bible will stir your affections for the glory and worship of God by reading His Word. Many of us desire a faith that emphasizes beauty the way men like the great preacher Jonathan Edwards did; let us use this wonderful resource as an aid in our reverence and appreciation of God’s beautiful and holy Word. From design to vision, I think Crossway’s work with this project will benefit Christians of every kind.
Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus — Mark Dever
Overall, Discipling is a great blend of theological conviction, perspective shift, and practical help. I am grateful to the ministry and writing of Mark Dever and 9Marks. Anyone who is a pastor or church leader of any kind needs the entire Building Healthy Churches series. This book, with its compact size and ease of reading, would be a perfect training resource for church staff, ministry teams, volunteers, or small groups. Get Dever’s book and get equipped for the Great Commission.
The Inerrant Word: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives — edited by John MacArthur
The Inerrant Word is a collection of essays that explore the multi-perspective view into this critical doctrine. It truthfully affects us in every corner of the Christian life, not only at the theological level but historically and pastorally as well. One might wonder how 24 voices could offer enough different perspectives to what seems like a simple doctrine, but The Inerrant Word has undertaken to shown how inerrancy really does affect every area of ministry, and there are many different subjects to speak on.
Another great year in books. Although these are what I’d call my “top 12,” there are plenty of books I left off of this list that certainly deserve much praise and recognition. For a more detailed look into some of the highlights from 2015, I would encourage you to check out Tony Reinke’s awesome list over at Desiring God.