Everyone has a different way of reflecting on their year. Goals met, weight lost, places visited, friends made—all that’s well and good. But I prefer to do my reflecting by looking back on what I’ve read. That probably makes me a bit of a nerd. But I gave up on caring about that long ago.
As I scroll through the list of books I’ve spent time with at the end of each year, I always ask myself, “Which of you fine little friends did I most enjoy spending time with?” Obviously, any time spent with a book is a good time. But some books just have a special way of endearing themselves to me. Maybe it’s the humor. Maybe it’s the originality. Maybe it’s just the circumstances I happen to be going through when I read them. But for whatever reason, some books are just extra, well, enjoyable.
And that’s why I’m once again happy to be presenting my six favorite reads of the year. These books make the cut, not necessarily because they’re objectively superior books (although I think they’re pretty fantastic by any standard). They’re on the list because in some small way, they each made my life a little bit brighter. And if we’re honest, isn’t that why we read in the first place?
So here’s the list for 2018. Since each one is different and worthwhile in its own right, I’m not ranking them but merely listing them in the order that I read them. If one of these looks interesting to you, I hope you’ll grab a copy and check it out.
1. Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism (David P. Gushee). For me and my family, 2018 was a year of transition—an experience that has been scary, unpredictable, and disorienting. But to read Gushee’s personal account of his own transitions in life was hopeful and refreshing. His journey has been different than mine, and I can’t relate to everything he’s experienced. But his story gave me a window into how one can follow Jesus into new territory, and for this I’m grateful. Almost a year after reading it, I still think back to this book often. And every time I do, I’m encouraged to press deeper into the way of Jesus, even when it’s accompanied by risk and uncertainty.
2. The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action (Michelle Ferrigno Warren). When a defining moment in life comes along, they say you’re supposed to remember where you were and what you were doing when it arrived. Well, I guess this book left its mark on me because I vividly recall reading a chunk of it while sitting in my car on a sunny February afternoon in the parking lot of the West Lafayette Walmart. Why was I reading in the parking lot? No clue. But that’s the sort of impact it had on me. Warren’s challenge that, “The most profound move you can make to address pain and injustice is to become proximate to it,” still reverberates in my head and in my heart. I’ll probably spend the better part of my life trying to fully align my life with the vision Warren so powerfully sets forth.
3. PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire (John Wigger). Holy cow, this book is nuts. Like really, really nuts. If you want to take a deep dive into one of American Christianity’s wackiest subcultures, this is your ticket. Wigger crafts a fascinating (and disturbing) tale of the Bakkers and the many unfortunate souls who got caught up in their madness. Some things in life are so horrific that you just can’t look away, and this story, without a doubt, is one of those things. I couldn’t put it down. It’s some 400 pages long, but I would have gladly read another 400 if it would have been available. (But just to warn you: If you happen to venture into this book, prepare to find yourself spending way too much time afterward watching Jim Bakker clips on YouTube in silent disbelief.)
4. The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (J.R. Woodward & Dan White). “Living incarnationally is moving from going to a space (church building) once or twice a week to inhabiting a place (incarnation).” That’s just one of about three dozen similar instances when Woodward and White gave a profound and punchy expression to some of the murky, evolving thoughts in my own mind that I hadn’t yet been able to articulate. Whether it’s the nature of mission, the task of discipleship, the essence of community, or the shape of leadership, this book had a way of turning on one light bulb after another. I quote from this book way more than I should, and I’ll be returning to it time and time again as I strive to lead a missional community to be faithful to its God-given calling.
5. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson). If there’s any book on this list that I truly feel everyone should read, this is it. I had heard an interview with Stevenson on the Pass the Mic podcast some time back, and I thought to myself, “Wow, I need to learn more about this guy.” So I grabbed Just Mercy, and the rest is history. This book pulled the curtain back on hidden injustices going on around me, and yet at the same time it gave me hope in the surprising power of love. Stevenson’s story is a portrait of courage, perseverance, and determination—a beacon of light for anyone wanting to make a difference in this world.
6. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Steven Sloman & Philip Fernbach). It seems like at least once a year I come across a book that has no reason whatsoever to catch my attention, but in the end it turns out to be a completely unexpected surprise. I honestly can’t remember what prompted me to buy a book written by a pair of cognitive scientists. All I know is that when I finally got around to reading it, I was hooked. There’s some fascinating stuff in here, and the authors do an impressive job of making it all remarkably applicable. I now know much more definitively just how little I actually know.
Want to take a stroll down memory lane? Check out my lists from the past two years: