Pastor Joel's Top 10 Books of 2017

Pastor Joel’s Top 10 Books of 2017.jpg

Around this time of year, many "Top 10" lists are published, recapping the best of the best of the previous year.  My favorite version of these lists is a top 10 list of books.  Several authors, bloggers, writers, and preachers and pastors release such lists, and I confess that I get almost all of my reading material for the coming year from such lists.  Not to be outdone, I figured I'd produce my own Top 10 list of books that I read that were influential in my thinking, or challenged me in some way, or that I simply enjoyed.  This isn't the first time I've produced a list like this (click here for my favorite books from 2016).  While in this post I'll be focusing on books that enhanced my spiritual walk, I'll be making a more diverse list over on my personal blog.  

Before checking out my list below, there are a few things you should be aware of:

1. My favorite genre of literature is biography, memoir, history, and other non-fiction.  This is ironic, considering that the top books on this year's and last year's list were both fiction!  But my main "go-to" literature is definitely non-fiction.  The good fiction I pick up is usually coincidental or unintentional.  

2. Some of these books are included in Riverview's library.  I'll note their inclusion when appropriate.  Otherwise, you can click on the thumbnail of each book to find it on Amazon.  

3. I realize that not all of these books (actually, I don't think any of them) were published in 2017.  But nevertheless, it was 2017 by the time I got around to reading them.  So although this is a list of some of my favorite books of 2017, the "2017" qualifier only refers to when I actually read them.

4. I don't have a lot of time to read.  I'm a busy guy with a full time job, a marriage to nurture, and two young kids to raise.  I don't have a lot of extra time.  For this reason, before I pick up a book, I do a bit of research into what I'm about to read.  If I am going to spend my time reading, I want to make it count.  So I don't usually just pick up a random book and start reading.  I read intentionally.

10. Do More Better by Tim Challies. As a busy pastor, I'm constantly filling my time with tasks, visits, correspondence, studying, reading, and other things.  My schedule can get pretty busy.  Tim Challies has a strong interest in productivity, and he has done some good writing about it here.  The best part of this book is its practicality.  You will gain several good and reliable and actionable pieces of advice about how to be more efficient and productive in your daily work, and from a Christian perspective.  

9. Tyranny of the Urgent by Charles E. Hummel.  Earlier this year I was at a meeting for a board that I sit on, and one of the other board members used the phrase "the tyranny of the urgent."  I told him that was an interesting phrase and asked him if he came up with it himself.  He said that he did not, and that it was actually the title of a very short book that I should read as soon as possible.  In fact, he said, "Stop what you're doing right now, and order it on Amazon."  I did.  It was very good.  And very short.  If you don't have time to read Do More Better, then read Tyranny of the Urgent.  It will take you through a very brief biblical analysis of how we budget and use our time as Christians, and how we can do better.  

8. Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee.  In my regular reading I try to keep an eye on what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  It is far too common for us to be insulated and think that the fullness of the Christian experience is found in whatever it looks like in our own context.  I want to know what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  I was first introduced to the Dispatches from the Front series through Tim Challies' website.  Tim Keesee has an interesting job.  He travels the world and visits Christians and produces a video series of these visits to the "hard places" of the world where Christianity sometimes struggles and sometimes thrives.  The videos present an in depth look at the church in these hard places and some of the circumstances that make them such.  The videos are extremely well done (and available in Riverview's library).  I'm glad to say that the book is also well done, and Keesee is a good writer.  It's always good to get a different perspective on what it is like to be a Christian in other parts of the world.  

7. They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz.  What's it like to be a Christian in the Middle East?  That's the question this book answers by giving real-life, first-hand accounts of Iraqi Christians and how they survive and suffer and even thrive in an environment that is extremely hostile toward them.  Mindy Belz uses her journalistic expertise to befriend and report on how Christians live in not only the "hard places," but the hardest places.  

6. The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan.  This book was recommended by a somewhat high profile preacher that I follow on Facebook.  The book is the memoir of Andrew Klavan, who was born and raised a secular Jew.  The book details the account of his spiritual journey and ultimate awakening to the truth of the gospel.  It's a fantastic journey to see how God can intersect the life of anyone he chooses, no matter their circumstances or surroundings, and tear down the most prideful of hearts.  Plus, Klavan is a great writer and narrator, if you decide to get the audiobook.  I definitely had some theological and practical differences with Klavan along the way, but his story is encouraging and a worthwhile read.  

5. The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe.  The Kingdom of Speech is perhaps the most interesting book I read in 2017.  It argues against the evolutionary hypothesis as a legitimate explanation of the origin of life, and it does so in a fascinating and entertaining way.  The basic premise of the book is that evolution cannot account for the creation of human speech.  A layman's look at the field of linguistics simply yet comprehensively demonstrates that the gift of speech could not have evolved.  Plus, it's a rather short read.  (Reader beware: there is some brief foul language.)

4. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  This book has been on a lot of Top 10 lists across the internet, and created quite a buzz earlier in the year.  It's a gripping true story about a young boy's growth into adulthood in "hillbilly" culture and turbulent relationships he has along the way with his parents, grandparents, and his culture in general.  At times the tale is tragic, and at times, funny.  The book is almost too complex to describe here.  Although not written from a Christian perspective, you will be challenged to think long, hard, and biblically about poverty, justice, social classes and stigmas, human nature, personal responsibility, sin, family relationships, and a host of other issues.  (Reader beware: this book contains plenty of foul language and depictions of drug and alcohol abuse.)

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo.  Although written in the mid-20th century, earlier this year a movie of the same title was released, and I began to learn about the story of Silence.  I did not see the movie, however, but instead decided to read the novel.  Considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, I found it very interesting, very engaging, and a good look at suffering for Christ, albeit from a Roman Catholic perspective.  The novel tells the story of a 16th century young Portuguese priest who goes on a missionary journey to Japan to see the oppression that Catholic missionaries and Japanese Christians have suffered at the hands of Japanese persecutors.  What he finds is the barbaric treatment of priests and Japanese Christians, and even suffers the same himself.  The title of the novel is derived from the central question of the story: "If God can see the evil that happens, why does he remain silent?"  Unfortunately, Endo offers no answer to the question, and perhaps there is not one from the Catholic perspective.  We do have answers, however, and that's what I found frustrating about this book: I wanted to shout out to the characters and encourage them with truth as they struggle with the difficult questions of life.  This book caused me to think a lot, however, which is what good books do.  (Reader beware: this book contains mild depictions of torture and violence.)

2. Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton.  Also written in the mid-20th century is this biography of Martin Luther.  2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and so it seemed appropriate to me to read about the principle figure of the Reformation.  Bainton's biography was recommended to me as the standard of Luther biographies, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Martin Luther is a complicated character, and it was an enjoyable and educational process to read more about the man's life, ministry, and role in history and western culture.  As Bainton correctly asserts in the book, Luther remains one of the top-five culture-shaping characters in all of human history.  (Here I Stand is available in the Riverview Library)

1. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson.  For some reason, it seems that the majority of fiction I consume and really enjoy is young adult fiction.  Go figure.  The Wingfeather Saga is no exception, and in fact, is notable in that it was, I think, the best thing I read all year.  To be fair, this is not just one book, but a series of four books, and I was taken in by each one.  So much so that as soon as I finished the books on my own, I began reading them from the beginning to my children.  Currently, we're working our way through the fourth book.  The books tell the story of one family - the Wingfeathers - and particularly the children: Janner, Kalmar, and Leelee, and the adventures they have as they discover their true identities and the implications it has for the world in which they live as they battle against the Fangs of Dang and their master, Gnag the Nameless.  An appreciation for fantasy literature is certainly helpful, but definitely not required.  There are fascinating and excellent examples of good biblical character traits in these books, including heroism, sacrifice, courage, bravery, and countless other noble and biblical virtues.  And Peterson brilliantly creates a whole new world filled with unique creatures and challenges.   It's a great series for kids, and especially for boys, with perhaps one of the best endings I've ever read in a series of novels.  The series begins slowly in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and continues with North! Or Be Eaten and then becomes mysterious with Monster in the Hollows and concludes fantastically with The Warden and the Wolf King.  Don't let the fact that this series is young adult fiction discourage you from reading it.  I can't recommend this series highly enough for children and adults alike.  (The Wingfeather Saga is available in the Riverview Library.)