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Whether you are thinking of books for yourself or for others for this Christmas – here’s the breathlessly awaited book list of 2015! This year’s list has been arranged into three tiers so you can quickly identify books from “I am confident this is worthy of your read” – to – “I am confidant that you need not read this.” The top tier features four books that would be worthy of your attention:

Top Tier Books:

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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2000), by Nathaniel Philbrick goes into wonderful narrative to describe the real life whaling disaster that gave rise to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Ever since – this cautionary tale has been retold as a horror that defies imagination.

It was turned into a movie, but as usual… it can’t hold a candle to the book that inspired it.

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Prayer: Our Deepest Longing (2013), by Ronald Rolheiser. I appreciate the contemplations of those wise, faithful followers of Christ who have something hard-won to say about the spiritual life, and prayer in particular.

I don’t concern myself with the denominational background of the author if they prove to have insight on the nature of God and the practice of prayer.  I tend to be able to ignore any discussions about doctrines with which I disagree, and I value being teachable as possible to writers that have insight to share.

 

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The Meaning of Marriage (2011), by Timothy and Kathy Keller (I referenced this book as one my wife & I were reading together this year).

This book represents a different worldview than the prevailing culture. As marriages are mocked, broken, downplayed, swapped in & out, or just ignored, the Biblical perspective is radical. It was radical when it was written 2000 years ago, and remains radical today.

The Kellers are wise and gracious, and offer honest insight from their lives and biblical understanding. They do not come off as the kind of “power couple” we wait to see fall as in the entertainment industry.

 

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Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (2001), by Alan E. Lewis.  I began referring to this book in time for Good Friday, and you may have seen many quotes of his in following articles. It has now wedged itself into my top ten best theological books of all time.

Admittedly, it is thick and intricate, with some page-long footnotes and very well developed arguments. It is not for everyone, since it took me about 2 years of patiently working through its 470 pages. But it is a most satisfying volume that manages to speak to so many areas of Christian spirituality, history, anthropology, and the nature of the Triune God.

Second Tier Books:

Four German Writers (1964) by Hans Eichner (mentioned in “Return to Sender“). It appeals to my personal interest in German literature and culture. Since it was a scan of four writers, it is a short read to whet the appetite for more.

The Great and Holy War: How WWI became a Religious Crusade (2014) by Philip Jenkins does a number of things well: it answers my nagging questions about how Germany got dragged into and became entirely responsible for the dumbest war in history; it satisfyingly integrates the historical realities of Europe and the Middle East of the day; and it explains the religious dynamic that hasn’t been explored to this detail in other works. As you can see in Jenkin’s subtitle, he looks through the lens of WWI being a shameful and confused “religious crusade.”

The Scandal of Christianity (1951) by Emil Brunner was first referenced in “Trans-Identity (Part III): The Desperate Incurable Contradiction of Being“, the subtitle taken from Brunner’s insight on our desperate condition. It is fascinating to read authors from a different era, as this was published before I was born.

Ordinary Grace (2013) by William Kent Krueger (winner of the Edgar Award), and Suspended Sentences (2014) by French writer, Patrick Modiano (who won the Nobel prize for Literature) were my winter vacation reading. I wrote a little something about these two books back in February. Modiano’s book is not for everyone; but it is a fun ride if you’re up to it.

Start with Why (2009) by Simon Sinek was given to me in time for an important board retreat. You may enjoy his TED talk as an excellent 18 minute synopsis of his concept.

Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality, (2003) by David G. Benner rounds out the year as an excellent contemplative read of a 100 pages. “Love is the acid test of Christian spirituality,” he writes, “If Christian conversion is authentic, we are in a process of becoming more loving.” Let it be.

 

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but… don’t waste your time?

I intentionally looked this year for books on “intimacy” for my research (and personal gleanings… of course).  These two were sadly disappointing introductions to the subject: The Seven Levels of Intimacy (2005) by Matthew Kelly; and The Dance of Intimacy (1989) by Harriet Lerner.

Redeployment (2014) by Phil Klay. Perhaps this book crumbled under the weight of expectation, since it had won the National Book Award. It is a difficult book to read for a number of reasons, including the use of many inside military abbreviations. It is a gritty and earthy book in the military genre.

Letters from Earth (1938) by Mark Twain. This book was referenced in “Return to Sender” of my prayer blog: Curriculum of the Spiritual Life. It is a book that could not be published in the States during his life time (first printing, 1962, over 50 years after his death) due to the inflammatory tone it takes to faith. Some will like it precisely for that reason.

You should have Asked: The Art of Powerful Conversation (2013) by Stuart Knight; this is a self-published book that supports his self-help speaking career.

I welcome your insights, and the lists of books you read in 2015

I have one book shelf in my personal library devoted to “books to be read” – and therefore I do not usually accept books lent to me (the exception this year was Philbrick’s book lent by my friend Michel, and Jenkin’s book lent by my friend Dan). All this to say, if you have a book suggestion, let it be the best book you’ve read!  That will tempt me to squeeze it into that shelf.

Grace to you this Christmas! May your reading be Edifying.

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