I didn't get to read quite as much this year as I have in years past. However, the books I did read were, for me, life-transforming. A quick note: this list does not mean these books were written in 2016. Here are my top 5 for the year:
5) Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
This book was more timely than it was excellent. In light of the recent election, Hillbilly Elegy provides a rationale for why Donald Trump was elected and gives a snapshot into the lives of those who voted for him. I related tremendously with the book because Vance writes about my people. The stories he told were all too real for me. I loved it and I think you will find it interesting too.
4) You are what you Love by James K.A. Smith
James K.A. Smith wrote one of my favorite books back in 2014 called How (Not) to be Secular which was a brilliant diagnosis of culture. I think You are what you Love is brilliant for its diagnosis of the heart and one that I have often thought back on. Smith argues that real spiritual transformation can only come when we begin dealing with the heart and our love. I preached a message that drew heavily from this book in chapel so I think it will provide some good stuff for pastors as well.
3) Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis that You Can't Learn from Exegesis Alone by John Lee Thompson
I really can't express how soul nourishing this book was for me. Thompson's thesis is simple: there has always been divergence when it comes to interpretation of the Bible. The idea that it can just be me, the Bible and the Holy Spirit is isolating, dangerous and ultimately crippling for those who are looking to truly understand the Bible. It helped me realize the value, not just of good exegesis, but of good historical theology. I loved it.
2) On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde
This is a SHORT book that absolutely devastated me spiritually. Forde goes carefully through Luther's Heidelberg Disputations and asks the question, "What does it mean to be a theologian of the cross?" Notice what the question is not asking--"What is a theology of the cross?" The difference lies in who we are? Have we internalized the message of the cross? Have we internalized the death of and the promise of our Savior? There is almost no page without some sort of marking on it. It would have easily been my number one book of the year, if book number one had not been arguably the best book I've ever read.
1) America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark Noll
This book changed the way I viewed a) America b) Evangelicalism c) biblical interpretation and d) war. It was that good. And massive. It is not a book you read as quickly as possible but a book you persist with and slowly digest. It is long and dense but it is well worth the time to read. Noll argues that America has a completely different vision of Christianity--one that is ultimately linked to politics. Of course, Noll sees this as problematic (and rightfully so). He traces how the intertwining of politics and biblical interpretation ultimately impacted the Civil War. This book challenged so much of what I thought I knew about America and theology. I cannot say enough good about this book.
So there you have it! There is my top 5 for the year! I hope you pick a book (or five) from the list and digest them. I think you'll appreciate them!