Posted by: Keith Clark | January 6, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011

One of my goals in 2011 was to read at least a book a week. During a busy summer I got way behind, but with a furious rush in November and December, I managed to attain my goal on New Year’s Eve. I thought it would be fun to try to rank the books I read during the year, so what follows is my best attempt to do that. The truth is, if I ranked them tomorrow or the next day, the order of many would probably be different, though the top 10 or so would remain relatively stable. Further, the ranking doesn’t necessarily indicate the quality or value of the book, but merely the impact the book had on me as I reflect back on the year’s reading. Also, many of these books were released prior to 2011, but were new to me. Without further ado, here goes.

#52

Charles Foster
The Sacred Journey

A solid contribution to the Ancient Practices series. See my review here.

#51

Frederick Buechner
The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days

Each page of Buechner’s memoir of his early days flows with beautiful prose.

#50

Ben Witherington III
Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis

While the global economic recession provided the immediate context for Witherington’s reflections on faith and finances, the book is a helpful resource for thinking through the way faith shapes the handling of finances in any context.

#49

James W. Thompson
The Church in Exile: God’s Counterculture in a Non-Christian World

This revised release of a 20-year old book is a suitable companion for any study of 1 Peter. While the heart of the book’s message and the bulk of the textual commentary is still quite relevant, the book suffers from the unevenness of the revisions, which prevent it from reading smoothly.

#48

Roger E. Van Harn, ed.
Exploring & Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed

Consisting of both scholarly articles and sermons on each component of the Apostles’ Creed, this is a helpful book for those seeking better understanding of the ancient creed as well as those searching for wisdom as to how to help others understand the creed.

#47

David T. Lamb
God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

Lamb’s survey of the Bible in an effort to respond to critics of scripture’s portrayal of God is generally a worthwhile read. At times, however, I was distracted by Lamb’s attempts at light-hearted humor which, frankly, felt out of place. Further, he makes several comments and assumptions which, while perhaps commonly accepted among run-of-the-mill evangelicals, may be challenged by those outside the evangelical camp.

#46

Rob Bell
Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Whatever else can be said about Bell’s latest, he is a master of asking questions and evoking responses. In a time characterized by a resurgent anti-intellectualism, Bell’s willingness to challenge people to think is invaluable.

#45

Wendell Berry
Nathan Coulter

Berry’s first novel and initial contribution to the Port William Membership not only narrates a good story, it also is a great example of the practice and art of carefully choosing and using words to create worlds.

#44

Michael Connelly
The Black Echo

My introduction to Detective Harry Bosch hooked me. I can’t wait to read others.

#43

Tony Jones
There are Two Marriages: A Manifesto on Marriage

Jones makes a strong case for the separation of sacred marriage (marriage recognized and consecrated by the church) and civil marriage (marriage recognized and administered by the state). With so much heated rhetoric about “marriage” Jones’s thesis is timely. Unfortunately, this book, like other e-book only offerings, suffers from a lack of editorial polish (misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). Nevertheless, it is a crucially important conversation starter for Christian reflection on marriage in the 21st century.

#42

Walter Brueggemann
Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua

This short work by Walter Brueggemann wrestles with the portrayal of God in the violent narratives of Joshua. As such, it prompts an important discussion for anyone who takes the Bible seriously while also holding fast to belief in a good and loving God.

#41

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture

Drawing on prominent monastic themes, this book has much to say to a highly mobile generation, particularly as the recession perhaps begins to inhibit that mobility to some degree.

#40

Scot McKnight
Junia is Not Alone

The subject of this book is so important, it’s a shame the book reads as though it were rushed to publication. Nevertheless, it seems poised to make a significant impact on the church, if only by serving to launch the church into healthy dialogue.

#39

N. T. Wright
Small Faith Great God

It turns out N.T. Wright isn’t just an accomplished scholar, he’s also a fine preacher. Even better, the meditations gathered in this book are proof enough that the two vocations don’t have to be mutually exclusive, rather they can benefit each other greatly, as in fact they do here.

#38

Mark D. Roberts
Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime

This brief, but fairly comprehensive introduction to the celebration of advent is an outstanding resource for those individuals, families, or congregations new to the celebration of advent or who have celebrated advent but don’t really know why.

#37

Walter Brueggemann
Prayers for a Privileged People

For those of us who struggle to recognize our privilege, what a blessing to have Walter Brueggemann help provide us with language with which to communicate to God with full awareness of our privilege.

#36

Eugene H. Peterson
Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best

Peterson’s reflections on the life of the prophet Jeremiah are incisive and instructive. Further, his cultural sensitivity and his immersion in the biblical narrative allows him to serve as a model for theological reflection on both the biblical text and contemporary life.

#35

William T. Cavanaugh
Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

This brief book contains four provocative chapters which initiate important conversations about a faithful Christian approach to economics and desire. The pertinence of this book in the current climate in America is obvious.

#34

Philip Gulley
Life Goes On

With his characteristic wit and his insight into small-town church life, Philip Gulley once again hits a home run with the fifth book in the Harmony Series.

#33

Michael Connelly
The Lincoln Lawyer

The first book in Connelly’s series of Mickey Haller novels was an absolute page-turner.

#32

Alyce M. McKenzie
Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons

Alyce McKenzie draws the attention of preachers to the cultivation of the imagination by attending to the insights of outstanding writers and experienced preachers. In a time when many preachers are tempted away from the biblical text in the name of relevance, McKenzie helps preachers discover the imagination by which the text itself can captivate both preacher and congregation.

#31

N. T. Wright
Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today

A revised and expanded version of his earlier The Last Word, the book includes two case studies in which Wright seeks to put to practice the manner of reading the Bible which he advocates in the book.

#30

James Bryan Smith
The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows

James Bryan Smith has gifted the church significantly with his series on spiritual formation, of which this is the first book. There is perhaps no better resource for intentional, small group based efforts at spiritual formation.

#29

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community

Halter and Smay open up their practice of ministry to share stories of their efforts to create an incarnational community. This book is of tremendous benefit to the church as a means of generating local reflection on how a specific congregation might become an incarnational community.

#28

Luke Timothy Johnson
The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters

A preeminent biblical scholar, Johnson steps away from writing commentaries and provides a crystal-clear exposition of the creed that is thoroughly accessible. More importantly, however, he sets forth a compelling case for the ongoing significance of the creed in the life of the church as a body and the lives of each member of the body.

#27

N. T. Wright
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

This instant classic is perhaps the most useful popular introduction to Christian faith available.

#26

Ian Morgan Cron
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir . . . of Sorts

Ian Morgan Cron attains a perfect level of vulnerability and honesty in this memoir.

#25

N. T. Wright
The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion

The brevity of this book is misleading. It is an outstanding overview of the Christian practice of partaking of communion.

#24

Walter Brueggemann
The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah

Unlike traditional commentaries that work their way through a book chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse, this commentary deals with the theological themes that emerge in the book of Jeremiah as a whole. Brueggemann’s skill at distilling articulately the important themes of difficult texts is on full display in this outstanding commentary. I cannot recommend this more highly for study of Jeremiah.

#23

Amanda Morgan
Parenting with Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out

My wife has followed Amanda Morgan’s blog for some time and, as a result, decided to download her e-book. It is full of the insight and wisdom you’d expect from someone with training in child development who is also a parent.

#22

William H. Willimon
Why Jesus?

Willimon’s book on Jesus explores the different roles Jesus embraced during his life and ministry. Given the tendency of Christians to reduce Jesus to someone who fulfills one or two roles, Willimon’s book is an important and needed corrective that reminds of the depth of Jesus’s character and the breadth of Jesus’s ministry.

#21

Gary Thomas
Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul

Gary Thomas ventures into the difficult territory of relating physical and spiritual fitness. He generally does so with great care and with good results. I’ll have a more extensive review of this posted next week.

#20

Robert Stephen Reid
The Four Voices of Preaching: Connecting Purpose and Identity behind the Pulpit

Robert Reid identifies four primary voices in which preachers preach and explores the importance of authentic faithfulness to one’s natural voice. While there were several specific conclusions with which I disagreed, I have not been able to shake the feeling that the identification of the voices in which preachers preach and the voices congregants want and expect to hear is extremely important for discussions about the future of preaching.

#19

Abraham Verghese
Cutting for Stone

This lengthy coming of age novel makes up for its occasionally slow pace with its ability to draw in the reader with its compelling storyline and intriguing characters.

#18

Scott A. Bessenecker
How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior

One of the first, of which I’m aware, to diagnose as fatal the American church’s obsession with leadership, Bessenecker provides an initial prescription for recovering following Jesus as the primary task and identity of Christians.

#17

Scot McKnight
One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

McKnight’s ability to keep his pulse on both first-rate scholarship and the on-the-ground faith of young adults in America is unparalleled. Writing particularly with such young adults in mind, McKnight makes a compelling case that the call of Jesus involves every aspect of life.

#16

Robbie Castleman
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship

As my son Carson grows up, questions of how to not only include children in worship but also train them to worship are becoming even more important to me. While there are many ways I’d like to nuance, modify, or even change portions of Castleman’s case for parenting in the pew, it provides a much-needed introduction to a conversation churches must have, particularly as more and more teenagers and young adults are revealing that both families and the church are failing to train children to worship.

#15

Al Pittampalli
Read This Before Our Next Meeting

Anyone who is part of an organization that holds meetings ought to read this. I can’t help wondering the positive effect on churches if those who participate in meetings were to take seriously this manifesto.

#14

Miroslav Volf
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

Miroslav Volf makes a compelling case that religion should not be relegated to the private sphere, but should aim to serve the common good. This timely book is worth reading particularly in light of the present election year in which questions of religion’s place in the world surely will be raised.

#13

Ken Howard
Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them

This is a challenging call to take specific steps to overcome the boundaries that keep Christians from enjoying the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed.

#12

Parker J. Palmer
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Palmer’s reflections on the importance of vocation are both challenging and encouraging. His openness and transparency are heartening for anyone who dares to follow in his footsteps in listening for the voice of vocation.

#11

Eugene Peterson
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

Unlike the ever-so-popular pastor-preneurs who keep churning out books about the secrets of success in ministry, Peterson mines the Megilloth (Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and Esther) for wisdom in service of pastoral ministry. What results is nothing short of a wealth of pastoral wisdom. More than twenty years since its publication, it is as pertinent as ever.

#10

Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins
The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions

In my opinion, this ought to be a must-read for anyone in ministry who deals with questions about creation and evolution. Whether or not one accepts the authors’ “BioLogos” perspective on creation and evolution, it is essential that their arguments be given a genuine hearing.

#9

Wendell Berry
The Memory of Old Jack

This is a memoir of sorts of an earthy man of the land, Old Jack Beechum. In typical Berry fashion, the moments of Old Jack’s life into which readers get a glimpse are at times crude and at times beautiful and on occasion are both at the same time. For more reflections on this book see this post on Psalm 23 or this one on the changing of names.

#8

Walter Brueggemann
Out of Babylon

Recognizing parallels between the contemporary Western world and the empire of Babylon, Brueggemann probes the Old Testament prophetic corpus for insight as to how to live in the midst of empire. His concern for the church’s fidelity to God as opposed to empire is obvious on every page.

#7

Skye Jethani
With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

This is a great book that can serve as a catalyst for introspection or group reflection about the way we relate to God. Check out my full review here.

#6

Christian Scharen
Faith as a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership

Christian Scharen offers helpful direction for ministers seeking to cultivate in their congregations a commitment to faith as a way of life. Specifically paying attention to faith as it relates to family life, work and the economy, citizenship and the government, and leisure and the arts, Scharen provides numerous concrete examples of ways congregations have nurtured a commitment to faith as a way of life.

#5

William P. Brown
The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder

What do you get when a top-notch biblical scholar meditates on the seven prominent creation texts in the Bible alongside the many wondrous discoveries of science? Much to my surprise, you get a riveting call to wonder, praise, and responsibility.

#4

Scot McKnight
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited

The King Jesus Gospel is a fine work of theological reflection and biblical scholarship in service to the church, for whom I am hopefully optimistic the book might open up a new way forward in these changing times. Indeed, if taken seriously, McKnight’s understanding of the gospel might revolutionize the landscape of American Christianity. Check out my full review here.

#3

Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will

Drawing upon the wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola, Thibodeaux guides readers through the development of a healthy practice of discerning the will of God. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “How do I know God’s will?” Truth be told, I’ve asked it plenty of times myself. I’ve found no better resource for working through this question than this book.

#2

N. T. Wright
Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Wright has prepared and served up a feast in Simply Jesus. His ability to hear resonances between seemingly distant and disparate biblical texts is on full display. His skill at employing metaphors to make complex historical problems accessible is present throughout. His talent of relating seemingly every episode of Jesus’s life and ministry to the overarching story of God and God’s people is evident on nearly every page. Those who taste will, I suspect, see that the Lord is good. Check out my full review here.

#1

Eugene Peterson
The Pastor: A Memoir

Eugene Peterson’s memoir is so much more than a memoir. It is a model of theological reflection, a call to pastoral faithfulness, a testament of love for the church, and a guide for developing pastoral sensitivity. It is a fitting capstone to the writing portion of Eugene Peterson’s ministry.


Responses

  1. Thank you so much for the mention! I’m honored and glad to know that the book was useful to you and your family.

    • You’re welcome! I’m happy to share it with others.

  2. Great list! Thanks for taking the time to compile it.

    • Sure thing, Ben! I found that it was a really good exercise that forced me to think about the ways the books affected me. Glad you enjoyed it.


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