Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Books of 2011

'Tis the season for Top 10 Lists and countdowns. This was the first year in a couple that I didn't hit my target reading goal for the year, and for that I blame my new Kindle (but more on that in a future post). Nevertheless, there were a lot of great books this year, most that I wrote a review for, and all that I am happy to re-commend.

In addition to listing my favorite 10 books of the year, I am also giving out a couple random awards to some of these books for unique contributions they made to my reading this year.

(All hypertext titles are linked to book pages on the Westminster Bookstore at Their partnership, among many others, is what allows this blogger to read so many books in a cost-effective manner. So if you'd like to see a similar list next year, please click on all the links in this post. Or better yet, buy a book or two through those links. Their prices are consistently cheaper than Amazon, and shipping is free on order $49 and up, or a flat $3.99 otherwise!)

10. Church Planter - Darrin Patrick

The title for this book, Church Planter, is in my opinion a very unfortunate one—and I mean that in the very best way possible. This is an excellent book that should be read by anyone in Christian ministry, and I fear that the title will prevent many people from considering picking up a book that should have a much broader audience than the name suggests.

Darrin Patrick has given the church an excellent all-in-one resource for bringing up teachers, pastors, elders, and leaders in the church that far outreaches the implied scope of the title.

Award winner: The "Could This Book Cover Look Any More Like Gladiator?" award. If there was one book that made me want to read it simply due to the awesomeness of it's cover, it was this book. I felt like more of a man every time I pulled it out of my satchel in public (which it a plus for anyone that carries around a satchel in the first place).

9. From the Garden to the City - John Dyer

From the Garden to the City has a biblical balance and insight to it that has been missing in all previous books I've read regarding a theology of technology. Dyer shows an uncanny ability to skillfully and faithfully weave the two seeming unrelated topics of faith and technology into quite an accessible book.

The very structure of the book follows the Christian metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Dyer argues that (1) our ability to make technology is a reflection of our Creator, (2) every technology has the potential to be used for sin and rebellion, (3) technology can also be used for redemptive purposes, and (4) God's plan is the restoration of all things, including some of the things we make.

Award winner: The Most Surprising Book of the Year award. I'd heard very little of this book before I read it. I'd heard less of the author (I'm sure that says more of me than it does John Dyer). But once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. Engaging from start to finish. 

8. Smooth Stones - Joe Coffey

As a self-proclaimed apologist of sorts, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language.

7. Is God a Moral Monster? - Paul Copan

Can the religious, cultural, ethical context for what we read in the Old Testament help it make sense or is it all really as harsh, heinous, and offensive as the critics charge? Paul Copan would argue the former, and does so compellingly here. He opens his book with an introduction to the New Atheists and then uses many of their charges aimed at God and the Old Testament as a rough outline for the remainder of the book. The challenges are not new: the purging of the Promised Land, slavery, polygamy, and strange Mosaic laws for example. But what is new and welcome is Copan's careful treatment of each of these issues.

Award winner: The Most Dog-Eared Book of 2011 award. I don't think I referred to any book more often in the past year than this one as I co-wrote the group material for my church's study of the Old Testament historical books. (This material is also being adapted into an ongoing series on this blog.)

6. Earthen Vessels - Matthew Lee Anderson

While Christians should arguably have a higher view of the body than most, the average evangelical's theology of the body often remains unexamined and merely reactionary towards cultural trends and spiritual concerns. Matthew Lee Anderson challenges the unexamined and reactionary in his surprising new book Earthen Vessels. Not knowing what to expect of the latest blogger-turned-author (an ever growing breed) in his debut work, I found myself tearing through this book in a matter of days. How interesting can a Christian's book about the body be? As it turns out, very.

Award winner: The "What Do Tattoos, Cremation, and Homosexuality All Have In Common?" award. Yes, he hits all those points and more, and does so with relevance and reverence. And I know, I know, that award sounds like it needs a punchline but I still don't have one.

5. The God Who Is There - D.A. Carson

D.A. Carson writes his basic introduction to the Christian faith in The God Who Is There. This is equal parts theology, apologetic, and hermeneutic and all helpful. I would dare to say that this book is as good as any for someone investigating or just starting out in the Christian faith...with one minor caveat. Carson doesn't always put the cookies on the bottom shelf (as my pastor is wont to say) so be prepared to answer a few questions here and there. However, this also means that this may make for a more compelling book for any of your more intellectually-leaning seekers. All in all, a great book.

4. Red Like Blood - Joe Coffey & Bob Bevington

The best way I can describe this book is as follows: imagine if you ran into Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) at a recovery meeting of some sort and his life had just been blown up by the doctrines of grace. His testimony might just read like this. It is at times both humorously and painfully autobiographical. It is brutally honest. And yet it is eminently hopeful as the gospel stays in full view throughout. Yes there is pain here, but it is pain with a purpose.

I loved this book. It will break you open.

3. Gospel Wakefulness - Jared C. Wilson

Goose pimples. Or is it goosebumps? I've heard both, and if you're like me, you'll get both when you read Gospel Wakefulness. This impassioned plea for every Christian to not just believe the truth of the gospel, but to feel and be carried along by it too. In Wilson, I found a bit of John Piper's zeal for the passion and glory of God in the Gospel for the next generation. This book, perhaps more than any other on this list, is a definite re-read.

Award winner: The Most Hyphenated Word on the Cover of a Book award. Yeah, that award is pretty self-explanatory.

2. King's Cross - Timothy Keller

True to form, Keller has written a book that must not be missed. Following the life of Jesus as recorded in the book of Mark, Keller's writing shows how the life (and death and resurrection) speak to the deepest places in our own lives.

1. A Meal with Jesus - Tim Chester

It has been a while since a book so delighted me as did A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester. The way in which something so mundane and average as a meal was vested with such theological depth and significance was astounding. And yet, Tim is only following in the pattern that Jesus set in his ministry. He has found the gospel in the grub, or as the subtitle puts it: "Discovering grace, community, and mission around the table".

This book was a very timely one for me as I was just about to make a shift in my community group from one that was very content-heavy to one that was more community-driven (I know, where'd I come up with it, right?). The only unfortunate part to changing our format was that I couldn't make this book required reading. But hopefully, since it landed at the top of my list, it has at least become required reading for some of you!


Bill H said...

Agree with your assessment of Patrick, loved Anderson--very informative, and don't get all the love for Wilson--not sure he said anything new. Keller & Tims, spot on.

Jared Totten said...

4 out of 5? I'll take it!

As far as Wilson, sometimes the best books aren't the ones that say anything new, but the ones that bring together some of the best thoughts on a subject. You know, a sort of "standing on the shoulders of giants" sort of thing. Besides that, Wilson is probably hitting a slightly younger demographic than (for example) Piper's Desiring God trilogy does.