For the last few years I have posted the top 10 books I have read from the year. I have decided to shorten the list to 5 this year, primarily to apply something I learned about reading this year: Slower reading and meditating proved more fruitful for me this year. 2017 was not just a slower year for me in regards to reading, but I also was given the gift of a 3 month Sabbatical. Part of the goal in my Sabbatical was to slow down and process what I was reading. Less information, more space for heart-change. In God’s grand providence, the books I am listing below had an internal role in a season of rest and trust in God that I previous lacked. I am so very thankful to God for the timing of these books and how they shaped me in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018. So, here they are:
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
I cannot remember a book that was so welcoming and thoughtful, yet abrasive and convicting. Numerous times I would read a paragraph and have to put the book down, leading me to pace the hallway and reexamine my life. And when I say reexamine my life, I mean that with a legitimate desire to change and be better. Better at what? Loving. Smith’s main thesis throughout the book is that our habits reveal the things we love most. He also has a very convicting picture of our culture, describing how we have put a majority of emphasis on being “thinking things” while having little heart. Yet, the Christian faith and all it’s practicalities should be driven by love. He describes this love we so desperately need in the context of our relationship with God, the church, kids, culture, etc. Pick this one up in 2018 and make sure you have a pen and paper ready as you reorientate your loves.
Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne
This book is true treasure and a delight that will be opened again many times. Wilbourne takes one of the most beautiful truths in all of Scripture (Union with Christ) and highlights what is so beautiful and sacred about it. Yet, as he heightens our love for Christ and our union with him, he does not stop there. The author cares deeply in driving us from knowing we are united to Christ to living out the grand reality of that union (Phil. 3:12-16). Christ is both our anchor and our engine, our security and our motivation.
Reading this book on my first Sabbatical has brought a deep joy to my heart and mind while also making communion with God a true delight and pleasure (Ps. 16:11). The greatest truth in all the world is: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey
I laughed, cried, clapped, and cried some more. I truly believe this is a masterpiece and has been written so wonderfully in a way that makes much of God and the delight he has in using weak things for his glory. Surveying the lives of English preacher, Charles Spurgeon and the American slave, Thomas Johnson, the authors create a beautiful patchwork of how God can bring together two unlikely individuals and create a lifelong bond of love fostered through suffering and the gospel. A true delight.
Echoes of the Scripture in the Gospels by Richard B. Hays
This one I recommend with the disclaimer that it will take some work to read but pays off that work ten-fold. Now, my favorite thing to read is the topic of Bible interpretation, especially Christ in the Old Testament and how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament. There were quite a few times where I thought to myself, “Wow! I’ve never seen that before.” Yet, through careful exegesis and biblical theology, Hays shows how the Evangelists were writing their Gospels out of a deep understanding of Israel’s Scriptures. I cannot recommend this great work more highly. As I usually argue, you really cannot grasp the depth and brevity of the New Testament without understanding the Old. This work will greatly advance that understanding.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This has topped my favorite novels chart. The writing is so beautiful and fluid, vividly descriptive in a way I have not read before. The characters quickly grab your affections or capture your anger. Every page is leading you thirsting for answers and drawing you to wait with excitement to see how it will all unfold. There is no wonder in my mind why this novel won the Pulitzer Prize.
-Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Swine
-Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David P. Murray
-Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God by Dane C. Ortlund
-The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
-Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit by Eric L. Haney
Wes Van Fleet is Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership at Kaleo Church. He a