Although the following books are all excellent, my Ten Books from 2015 list is not a broad, “best books of the year” list.
These books are ones that I believe will draw us deeper into the challenges of our day and deeper into faithfulness to the way of Jesus. This list reflects a diversity of authors, genres, and perspectives, but I believe that they will help our churches live more faithfully with one another and with our neighbors.
Rather than trying to rank these books against each other (an impossible task!), I offer them in alphabetical order according to their authors’ last names.
Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems of Scott Cairns
Yeah, I know that poetry isn’t exactly the most popular genre these days, but I believe that taking the effort to read poetry will help us cultivate virtues, such as patience and attentiveness, that will help us live richer and more faithful lives. And there are few poets better than Scott Cairns to guide us on this pilgrimage of slowing down. Cairns is a twenty-first century psalmist, a poet whose spirituality immerses us ever deeper into the realities of everyday life. Slow Pilgrim features seven complete books of Cairns’s poems, as well as some uncollected poems, and is a superb introduction not only to the poet’s work but also to a wiser and more rooted way of life.
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Between the World and Me
(Spiegel and Grau)
In the wake of tragedies such as those in Ferguson and Charleston, America has been made to face the racial atrocities of our history and their fallout. Few, if any, commentators have spoken so clearly into this milieu as Ta-Nehisi Coates. Too often, White Christians have been inclined to talk about race, even to seek racial reconciliation, without the sort of careful listening that leads us into lament. If we have ears to hear, Between the World and Me will tell the heart-wrenching story of the Black experience at the turn of the twenty-first century. May we have ears to hear and the courage to lament!
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church
Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans has found great success as a blogger and writer because her struggles with faith resonate with so many people inside and outside the Church. Searching for Sunday, which narrates in great detail her struggles with church, is her most compelling book to date. It is a book that should be read and prayerfully considered by church leaders seeking to extend hospitality to and engage those in the Millennial generation.
The Turner House: A Novel
This extraordinary novel, which has been named as a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, offers a perspective on the cumulative effects of the modern age on family and place that is blunt yet not without hope. This novel unfolds in the gritty, urban context of Detroit and will, without a doubt, especially resonate with readers who are living/working in urban places. Nevertheless, its messages about the contemporary struggles that our families and communities face are messages to which we all should be attentive.
A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together
Scot McKnight offers us a vision of life in the church that is defined by its diversity. It is in the church, he argues, that we should be learning to be reconciled and to work alongside others who come from different backgrounds – economically, racially, theologically, etc. – than our own. A Fellowship of Differents cuts against the grain of American culture, a culture in which our social networks are becoming increasingly homogeneous. The hope this book offers of a different and contrasting way is precisely what makes it essential reading for all pastors and church leaders.
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Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times
Soong Chan Rah
Lament is almost unknown among Western, evangelical Christianity, and yet it is essential to the transformation for which we long. Our discomfort with lament has rendered evangelicals nearly mute in the face of escalating tragedies – police violence against Black Americans and mass shootings, for instance – that beg us to lament. In his superb new book, Soong Chan Rah uses a series of reflections on the Old Testament book of Lamentations to explore our discomfort with lament and calls us to recover this historic practice of our faith.
Structured for Mission: Renewing the Culture of the Church
Of all the books on this list, Alan Roxburgh’s Structured for Mission is perhaps the most practical and the one that should be read first in order to orchestrate all of the others. It is not enough, he argues, simply to change the structures through which we experience the world. We also need to examine the stories and the images that give rise to our structures. This is a book that has the potential to radically transform the ways we live and work as church communities.
The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry
Despite the reference to pastoral ministry in its title, this book is one that should be read much more broadly than just by pastors. While especially vital for pastors, it is no less significant when read by laypeople, as it is a poignant reminder of the humanity of our leaders and of the call for each of us to devote ourselves to the work of the Gospel. Smith’s call to live faithfully within the bounds of our humanness will guide us toward a deeper life together that is both more joyful and more sustainable.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
Drawing upon a deep well of social research, Turkle makes a compelling case that we need to rely a little bit less on our technology (especially our phones) and a little bit more on face-to-face conversation. Her findings should be carefully considered by all in church leadership and cause us to consider our role in forming people who are attentive to and empathetic with others. Our churches are well suited to lead the way in reviving the practice of face-to-face conversation in the twenty-first century, and Turkle offers us keen justification for why we should do so.
Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God
Lauren Winner, author of a number of finely crafted memoirs, including Girl Meets God, stretches our imaginations by combing Scripture for little-used metaphors for the person and character of God, including clothing, smell, and laboring women. Wearing God is a warm, playful reflection that not only expands our understanding of God but also highlights the delicate interweaving of language and imagination. It reminds us how our attention to the language we use can breathe fresh, new life into the life we share in our church communities.
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