1. From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier (56 pages)
Jean Vanier (Van-yay) passed away May 7th; his loss will be felt by people from a variety of Christian denominations. Vanier relinquished an academic post at the University of Toronto to found L’Arche communities for people with disabilities. This book is a series of two lectures that detail what he has learned from decades of living with this group of people. The book is short (2 chapters, 60 pages) and might be digested slowly. A possible format might be four weeks, covering the chapters, looking how the biblical metaphor of the body functions (Ephesians 4:1-16; Romans 12:1-21; Colossians 1:21-2:23 [read “body” instead of “substance” in 2:17]; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 [keep an eye on chapter 13], and perhaps discussion about our forms of life and people who experience pain in our body or people who make body life painful to us. (Matthew LaPine)
2. Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch (187 pages)
This book is one of Jeff Dodge’s favorites. Again, the book focuses on vulnerability within our church body. Crouch uses a two quadrant diagram to talk about the suffering, authority or power, and what it means to live like Christ in contemporary culture and in the church body. This is a practical theology book that is quite practical. The concepts Crouch unpacks will help the reader to appreciate the power of the gospel and unlock a number of biblical themes. Eight meetings would cover 8 chapters. (Matthew LaPine)
3. Glittering Vices, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (180 pages)
This is the best book I (Matt) read in 2014. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung is a brilliant philosopher theologian from Calvin College. This book is a work of practical theology drawing from the early Christian tradition of the seven deadly sins. These “sins” are actually “vices,” that is, habits of the soul, the ways we are typically bent to find satisfaction in idols. The chapters cover both what the vices are and how to fight them. Headings: (2) Envy: Feeling Bitter When Others Have It Better; (3) Vainglory: Image is Everything; (4) Sloth: Resistance to the Demands of Love; (5) Avarice: I Want It All; (6) Anger: Holy Emotion or Hellish Passion?; (7) Gluttony: Feeding Your Face and Starving Your Heart; (8) Lust: Smoke, Fire and Ashes. (Matthew LaPine)
4. Living Into Focus, Arthur Boers (208 pages)
Arthur Boers is arguing that the ways that contemporary culture is diminishing our ability to sustain our attention is having an effect on the depth and richness of our spiritual life. This is a book of practical theology answering three questions: Why does our ability to focus matter? What is eroding it? What can we do about it? Again, this is a book that is aimed at deconstructing our assumptions about our ways of life, that they are neutral and do not affect our spiritual lives. It will undoubtedly raise questions about some practices we all share. This is a wise book. It is laid out in 12 chapters. (Matthew LaPine)
5. On Reading Well, Karen Prior Swallow (272 pages)
The inclusion of this book on the list is aimed at raising awareness of how enriching reading fiction literature can be for our spiritual lives. Our understanding of the Bible grows richer as we gain a “deep, wide knowledge of reality,” as John Piper says. Literature engages our imagination by experiencing reality through story from the perspective of another person. Imagination is especially our sense of what it is like. We know what it means to know God as father from our experience of Fatherhood. Not only metaphors, but all of our concepts (words) are empty without experience. Literature teaches us about experiences we cannot have or possibilities that we cannot conceive of. Karen Prior Swallow argues that we should read virtuously (faithfully and closely to text and context) and that reading develops virtue in us in return. The book has twelve chapters covering the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage), the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), and the heavenly virtues (chastity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility). It covers authors such as Jane Austen, Shusaku Endu, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy. (Matthew LaPine)
6. The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry (366 pages)
This was the best book I (Matt) read in 2016. This is a collection of stories from a child psychologist, which represent some of the toughest cases he has faced in his practice and what he has learned from them. This book is written from a non-Christian perspective. I consider this a very important book to include on this list because it undercuts the idea that our moral formation comes only through words. A consistent theme of the book is the younger a child is abused or neglected the more this treatment leaves its marks on the body and psychology of the child. Another way of putting it is this: this book teaches us how crucial (especially) mothers are for children, communities, and societies. Some of the stories in this book can be difficult to read, but in general, the book is hopeful. It also puts a high value on ordinary forms of care like physical touch and conversation. I highly recommend this book. (Matthew LaPine)
7. Gay Girl Good God by Jackie Hill Perry (159 pages)
Jackie Hill Perry’s “Gay Girl, Good God” is a personal, hard, honest and open story of how God redeemed a life for His purpose and glory. It is her story of God’s call on her life to come out of a gay lifestyle and into the beauty of salvation.
But Jackie speaks hard truth to every sinner – no matter where one might find himself or herself. In her own words: “If the truth is what sets us free, then why not walk in it at all times? With wisdom and love, of course, but also with the reality that truth is where freedom begins.”
The story is a call to know a good God. It is the story of the gospel reaching to the depths of a sinner. Jackie writes beautifully of the wonderful goodness of God and encourages all to know and follow Him and to see the miracle of salvation. “Before time He’s done it, and when time becomes a distant memory only to reminisce, He will always be doing what no one can: be God. The God who does the miraculous. And we can be sure that the salvation of a sinner is the greatest miracle the world could ever see.” (Mandy Stenberg)
8. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby (276 pages)
Jemar Tisby is an advocate of racial reconciliation that has been at the practice for some time now. He embodies the best of racial reconciliation with a healthy view of the evangelical church and uses his title, The Color of Compromise, to enter in historically to educate on the role race has played since the conception of the US, societally, and how that has crept, seamlessly, into our faith and our churches. He marries racial reconciliation and the history of evangelicalism (with all of its warts and scars) in a way that is unapologetic and truthful, but also helpful and hopeful. If you have any question on whether racial reconciliation is a gospel issue, this book aims to answer. (Jarryd Cole)
9. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (323 pages)
This fictional novel is about the life of an African American teen girl who grows up in a poor, mostly black neighborhood but attends a mostly white prep-school. The novel begins with a startling scene where this girl witnesses the shooting of an unarmed young man who was her best friend.
This is a raw and unfiltered secular novel. Please be aware that it does contain explicit language and adult themes. But like any other literary work, the reader must understand and have a frame of reference for the lives of its characters. You couldn’t remove the raw and gruesome opening scene of D-Day from Saving Private Ryan or cut out the appalling scenes of what happened in Schindler’s List, as offensive and repulsive as those scenes are. The rough words with which Thomas shares this story is what is demanded for the context of life for these characters. So please be a wise and open-minded reader if you choose this novel.
Besides that, this novel is also funny, endearing, gut-wrenching, and moving; you won’t want to put it down. The author creatively invites you into the lives of Starr, her loving family and friends as the characters, each in their own way, try to help her grapple with what happened to her best friend. It may challenge deep rooted ideas, biases and/or assumptions about others that you may not even know existed. It may help you imagine a life you may never have to experience as you put yourself in Starr’s shoes.
Since its debut in 2017, this novel stayed at the #1 spot of the New York Times Best Seller List for over 80 weeks. It has won many awards like the William C. Morris Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and Michael L. Printz Honor Award. It has also been named to the National Book Longlist, and was nominated for both the Carnegie Medal and the Edgar Allan Poe Awards. (Joy Andrews)
10. The Simplest Way to Change the World by Dustin Willis (198 pages)
Deep down, every Christian wants to make a difference. But for many of us, the years come and go and we never do. The good news is: change can be as simple as opening your front door.
The Simplest Way to Change the World is about biblical hospitality and its power for the gospel. Since people will sooner enter a living room than a church, hospitality is a natural and effective way to build relationships for Christ. You’ll learn:
- How the home can be a hub for community
- How hospitality leads to joy, purpose, and belonging
- How it grows families to love the things of God
- How it’s not about being the perfect host
- How to be hospitable regardless of your living space
Hospitality is a beautiful legacy of the church, and a great way to make disciples. As you open your life up to others, you share in the very character of God and experience His joy. And you get to witness lives change—including your own. (Moody Publishing blurb)
11. Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (1942, roughly 200 pages)
C.S. Lewis was an Oxford Don most famous for his radio addresses during World War II and for his children’s books. He is still one of the most influential Christian intellectuals of the last 100 years because of his unique ability to draw from his scholarship to speak to ordinary people. He studied philosophy (“Greats”) and English literature at Oxford before teaching at Oxford and Cambridge. In my opinion, what is most underrated about Lewis is his intuitive grasp on human psychology. Screwtape Letters is still worth reading despite its age because it describes still familiar ways that sin deceives us. Take one example, what Lewis calls “the generous conflict illusion” (Matthew LaPine):
“Later on you can venture on what may be called the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with grown-up children for example. Something quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not but is, of course, prepared to do so out of ‘Unselfishness’. The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their ‘Unselfishness’, but really because they don’t want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the first speaker practises petty altruisms. But he is not going to be done out of his debauch of Unselfishness either. He insists on doing ‘what the others want’. They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying ‘Very well then, I won’t have any tea at all!’, and a real quarrel ensues with bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each side is fighting the other side’s battle, all the bitterness which really flows from the thwarted self-righteousness and obstinancy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official ‘Unselfishness’ of what they are doing, or at least, held to be excused by it. Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary’s Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them; but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty than comes natural to a human. […] Some degree of mutual falseness, some surprise that the girl does not always notice just how Unselfish he is being, can be smuggled in already.”
12. Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke (162 pages)
In the most lighthearted, but helpful way, Tony Reinke tackles one of the most serious and pressing topics around. Understanding that our phones, that connect us but also keep us distant, have both good and negative ramifications, Reinke does a great job of informing us of ways we can enjoy the benefits, but also avoid the pitfalls of our favorite pocket pals. There is no question that we are changed by our smartphones, for better and for worse, and this book does a great job of addressing that in detail while offering an informed way to have a healthier relationship with our generations most used tool. (Jarryd Cole)
13. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Jeremy Treat (292 pages)
This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year (Matt). Jeremy Treat is arguing that we should not pit the cross against the kingdom. When we emphasize the cross we often emphasize the forgiveness of sins and our justification. When we speak of the kingdom we emphasize new life and the renewal of ourselves and social relations, or sanctification. Treat looks at Isaiah and Mark to argue that the cross is the enthronement ceremony for “the cruciform reign of God.” This book will deepen your appreciation for Christ’s work on the cross and the biblical themes it fulfills. (Matthew LaPine)