I can’t claim to have read as many as some, or as widely as others, but here’s the books I’ve read this year, and the ones I’d most highly recommend:
- One Forever, by Rory Shiner. An absolute peach of a book. How Rory Shiner managed to pack so much rich, joyous theology into a short and very readable book, I’m not quite sure – but he did. The book looks at what it means for Christians to be united to Christ, in areas such as justification, church, fighting sin, and the new creation, but it does so in a clearly understandable and practical way. Thoroughly recommended.
- Christ Our Life, by Michael Reeves. I can’t do better than my friend Peter’s review: “For a newcomer to Christianity, or for a long-time follower of Jesus, this book will stir your heart and lift it toward Him. Five chapters in typical Reeves style: high energy, good momentum, great one-liners, on-target historical anecdotes and lots of biblical interaction. The fourth chapter on the Christian life is worth the price of the book, but be sure to take advantage of the rest too.”
- A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards, by Dane Ortlund. A much more academic book than others on the list, but not by any means in the pejorative sense of the word! Ortlund gets to the heart (pun unavoidable) of the Christian life and Christian motivation, showing how Edwards (and the Bible) point to the believer’s awakened taste and hunger for God and his goodness as the motive force for growth in maturity and holiness. Looking forward to the author’s new book, Edwards on the Christian Life, too.
- Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel. My first book by Flavel, but unlikely to be my last if this is a representative example. Sound exhortations to care for your soul, with that wonderful way of looking at so many different facets of the same thing to bring real richness and depth to the argument. Would probably serve as an excellent introduction to the Puritans in general – certainly a great example of the wisdom of the pastors of past generations.
- The Schaeffer Trilogy (The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent), by Francis Schaeffer. I should have read The God Who Is There in my first year of uni, though I doubt I’d have appreciated it as much. Reading it today I found it stretching and stimulating, and though written in the 60s is still incredibly relevant today. His analysis of trends in Western thought, and how culture and the church have bought into the huge misstep of separating “the upper storey” – faith – from “the lower storey” – reason – is revealing and perceptive. Once I’ve read a bit more in a similar vein, I will return to these and will no doubt benefit even more!
Honourable mentions go to Pleased to Dwell by Peter Mead (24 meditations on Jesus and the Incarnation) and Jesus on Every Page by David Murray (seeing all the ways the Bible speaks of Jesus, right from Genesis), as well as the short 10Publishing books Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves and True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts. I read the latter two with a small group of friends and had some brilliant conversations off the back of them – and they’re short enough to read in an evening too.
My top secular books of 2013 – not necessarily those published this year (as will be apparent) but those I read for the first time this year. Related: Top Christian books of 2013.
- Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare. This play went from being unknown to my favourite Shakespeare play in a very short space of time due to its word-play and verbal sparring between the leads, but also because it is often laugh-out-loud funny. The Joss Whedon adaptation was my initial introduction, and is also my film of the year.
- Quiet, by Susan Cain. A book on introverts by an introvert that helped me understand myself and others better, whilst also showing me that quiet is not only possible but desirable for extroverts like me too! This and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (see last year) make a powerful case for silence, space and reflection: a message I need to keep hearing in the noise of our always-connected culture.
- The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Oh my. This is the year that Margaret Atwood became my favourite living author. Stunning in its scope, subtle in its nuances, bringing together biography and fantasy in an intense narrative that hints and weaves and dances before reaching an explosive and emotional end. Epic and oh-so-worth-it.
- Tender is the night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had one failed attempt at starting this slow-moving but beautiful portrayal of 1920s glitz in terminal decline, but I’m so glad I persevered. If The Great Gatsby is small and perfectly formed, this is the sprawling and strange elder sibling.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré. A gripping introduction to one of the great Cold War story-tellers. This is to Ian Fleming’s Bond as Alec Guinness is to Roger Moore – sophisticated rather than salacious, complex characters rather than stereotypes, and thoughtful prose rather than terse one-liners. (This may be unfair to Fleming, but it’s certainly not unfair to le Carré.)
My top Christian books of 2013. Related: Top secular books of 2013.
- Confessions, by Augustine. Emotionally raw and incredibly honest, this book is Augustine’s reflections on his slavery to sin and his eventual conversion, all in the context of a prayer to God. I accidentally picked up an abridged version, but it was nonetheless astonishing.
- Serving without sinking, by John Hindley. The church’s book of the summer, and with good reason. Hindley starts by diagnosing many bad reasons for service, spends the majority of the book discussing how Jesus serves us, and only then moves to our service of him. It left me delighting in Jesus more and with a fresh joy in his service, and for that it comes warmly commended.
- J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ, by Roger Steer. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into reading Christian biographies. This one was a real encouragement. Seeing God using an ordinary, sinful man to bring thousands of Chinese people to Christ and to raise up multiple generations of Jesus-loving missionaries, all off the back of simple, faithful prayers, gave me a renewed heart for God’s mission to the world and a renewed confidence that he is powerfully at work to this day.
- Integrity, by Jonathan Lamb. I’d been meaning to read this for a while, and it didn’t disappoint – in fact I read it twice! Jonathan Lamb shows how Christians need to be those with integrity – to have lives that reflect the God we love to the church and to the world. It’s a thematic walk through 2 Corinthians and deserves thoughtful reflection. I need the message of this book daily.
- Emotions, by Graham Beynon. I had great expectations of this book, and it came very close to fulfilling all of them. I found it pastorally helpful, realistic, biblical and encouraging. My one concern is that I already agreed with its thesis, and I’m not sure what those of a more stoical mindset will make of it. Still, a much needed message in the Christian sub-culture I’m in (precisely because we tend to be more stoical than biblical when it comes to emotions!).
Honourable mentions go to Tim Chester’s Unreached, Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, Phil Ryken’s Loving the way Jesus loves, and Christopher Ash’s Bible Delight. The latter two are brilliant books for daily devotions.