Each spring, I have the joy of sharing my favorite books from the past twelve months. This year's list is arranged in order of preference.
1. Deep Church by Jim Belcher (InterVarsity Press, 2009) This is one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade. A first-time author dissects divisions within the American church and proposes a constructive way forward. I will feature the book in my Spring Leadership Meeting talk, and I am asking all participants to read it in advance.
2. The Life and Times of Cotton Mather by Kenneth Silverman (Harper and Row, 1984) For over a year, this biography gathered dust in the corner of my bedroom. Frankly, reading a thick tome about a 17th century Puritan minister just didn’t seem very exciting. How wrong I was! This is a powerhouse account about a larger-than-life figure. Mather was a leading minister of his day, author of more than 400 books, the first American member of the British Royal Society of Science, a provider of the theological justification for the Salem witch trials, and deeply insecure despite all his accomplishments. He buried 13 of his 15 children and two wives of his three wives (and the last one may have been mentally ill).
3. The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough (Simon and Schuster, 1977) Before McCullough became famous for writing books like John Adams, 1776, and Truman, he penned this marvelous forty-year history of the Panama Canal. From the dreams — and disastrous — failures of the French to the bullying of the Theodore Roosevelt administration, the account reads better than many novels. One of the most interesting characters is Bill Gorgas, the doctor who eradicated yellow fever and malaria in Panama. A devout Christian, he regarded his medical calling to be a sacred trust.
4. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and How It Died by Philip Jenkins (Harper, 2008) I simply could not put this book down. Jenkins follows up on his brilliant 2002 work, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, with an equally compelling volume. Ever wonder where those churches currently under attack in Iraq came from? Ever wonder why the Christian church all but died in so many Moslem nations? Ever wonder what happened to those church communities that were anathematized by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.? Jenkins answers these questions and more.
5. The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism by Tina Rosenberg (Vintage Books, 1995) Written shortly after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany, the author describes scores of "villains" and "victims" from the former Soviet empire. Moral issues become clouded as villains tell their side of the story and victims turn out to be less virtuous than initially thought. A fascinating account of coming to grips with secrets, betrayal, truth, justice, and forgiveness.
6. Tyndale Commentary Series on 1 and 2 Samuel by Joyce Baldwin (InterVarsity Press, 2009) Page for page, this is a hard-to-beat series. Fabulous theologians writing to lay people like me. Uniformly excellent. In addition to 1 and 2 Samuel, I also read volumes on Judges and Ruth, 1 and 2 Kings, Job, Matthew, and John this year.
7. Africa Bible Commentary edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo (Zondervan, 2006) Every morning, I read this commentary in tandem with a Tyndale volume (see #6 above). Various African theologians exegete biblical texts. An absolute treat. In recent months, for example, I have been enjoying reading Musa Gotom of Nigeria and Isabel Apawo Phiri of Malawi.
8. Josephus: The Complete Works by Flavius Josephus (Thomas Nelson, 1998) Ok. This is an awfully nerdy choice. I mean — who actually sits down and reads Josephus? I have read around him virtually my whole adult life and finally decided to take the plunge. I have been pleasantly surprised by the readability of his _Antiquities of the Jews_ and _War of the Jews._
9. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Norton, 1962) I realize that this novel must look horribly out of place vis-à-vis the other works on my list. I have never seen the movie — and don’t intend to — but the novel is riveting, a virtual primer on original sin. Burgess creates an absolutely irredeemable character and then gives hope of his redemption. Not for the faint of heart.
10. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins (HarperCollins, 2009) The only leadership book on the list. From his past writings (e.g. Good to Great), I get the feeling that Collins — who I don’t think is a believer — taps deeply into common grace. Some of his chapter titles could be taken straight from Scripture: "Grasping for salvation," "Undisciplined pursuit of more" and "Hubris born of success." In parts, the book reads like Proverbs revisited: pride comes before a fall; don’t be greedy; be disciplined, honest, loyal, humble, and persistent.