I usually enjoy putting together my list of 5 favorite books from the past year. I’m not sure that anyone really cares that much about my favorite books. But it’s always fun to reflect on what I’ve read over the last twelve months and remember all the great books I’ve read.
Alas, this is not one of those years. Looking back, I’m somewhat distressed but two things: (1) I really didn’t read that many books, and (2) most of them weren’t all that great. They weren’t bad; they just weren’t great.
I need to do something about that next year. At the very least, I need to carve out a little more reading space – especially for good fiction. But I also need to read better books. I think I’ve been trying a little too hard to “keep up” with the popular books, leaving too little time to engage the really good ones.
Nonetheless, the year wasn’t a complete loss. I did read some good books worth mentioning. So, without further ado, here are my 5 favorite books of 2011. (By the way, these are books that I read in 2011 regardless of when they were published.)
Best Theology Book
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders. If you like reading theologians who write well, think creatively, engage important issues, and connect them to everyday life, this book is for you. Sanders does an outstanding job working through a range of issues relative to understanding the Trinity, and showing how each matters for life and ministry today. Far from being a piece of theological speculation, of interest only to theologians and church historians, Sanders unfolds the Trinity as central to Christian spirituality and the gospel itself.
Best Fiction Book
The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman. Okay, I’m cheating a bit here by putting two books together. But they really tell one story, and I read them at the same time. So I think it’s justified. Anyway, these two fantasy novels are a fabulous read. Grossman shamelessly steals themes and ideas from all over the fantasy genre, combining them to tell a unique and compelling story. What I found most interesting here is that unlike most fantasy novels, I didn’t find the world that Grossman created to be all that interesting. But his characters are oddly fascinating. And he’s not at all afraid to run them through the ringer. (Warning: the story does get rather gritty in places. It’s not as bad as A Song of Fire and Ice, but it’s still tough at times.)
Best Book about the Gospel
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Scot McKnight. I decided to go with just one of the many books written about the gospel this year. And, of those, I liked McKnight’s the best. McKnight does a great job explaining how the good news of “my” salvation only makes sense when it gets placed in the larger story of what God has been doing in and through his people from the very beginning. Since that’s much of what I’m trying to do with my own gospel book (though in a rather quirkier manner), I’m probably a bit biased. But I think it’s so important to see the broader story as the necessary frame for the narrower story of personal salvation. And McKnight’s is one of the best books out there right now for doing that.
Best Book That Is Impossible to Categorize
Night of the Living Dead Christian: One Man’s Ferociously Funny Quest to Discover What It Means to Be Truly Transformed, Matt Mikalatos. Speaking of quirky, you have to love a book that uses werewolves, zombies, and vampires to tell the story of Christian transformation. Matt has a creative (someone would say bizarre) sense of humor and the amazing ability to take pop culture and use it to illuminate important theological ideas. If you’re looking for something a little different to read, or if you’d like to recommend a book to someone who doesn’t usually read theology books, this is a great choice
Best Church History Book:
Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, Alister McGrath. This book served as the starting point for the heresy series I wrote in the fall. McGrath does a great job laying out all the key issues involved in understanding what heresy is and why it matters today. And he manages to avoid being overly technical at the same time, keeping the book readable and fairly short.