2017: A Year in Books
‘Tis the season, as they say. We have turned the page on 2017 and look with bright hope toward the beginning of 2018 as the holiday season fades into history like leftover slices of fruitcake.
As recent weeks have attested, one of the telltale signs that a year’s end has drawn nigh is that a host of people you’ve never heard of (and didn’t ask) are telling you their top books, articles, news stories, or cat videos of the year as a means not only to compel you to investigate them on your own, but to remind you there was much to be thankful for over the past twelve months.
While there was much to be forgotten about 2017, the year brought us a litany of literary works we would do well to revisit in the new year.
If you missed some of these titles during the calendar year, don’t fret. Books have no expiration date. Several of these titles have already found their way onto many people’s lists, but I include them in mine as a means to further encourage readers to take up these books, and as a means to reinforce their value to the Christian community.
So whether you are a compulsive reader or simply someone who enjoys the occasional page-turner, I present to you in no particular order, Ryan Smith’s Authorized and Unsolicited Best Books Compilation of the Year (RSAUBBCY™ 2017 Edition).
This is Our Time – Trevin Wax
I’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way. I say that because this book has graced the top of many 2017 lists – and for good reason. Trevin Wax has provided the church not only with an outstanding resource for understanding our day and age, but an excellent apologetic for how the gospel is poised to answer many questions of our time.
By exploring and explaining much of our cultural predicament, Trevin Wax ultimately has written a book on worship and the dangers of misplaced adoration. This book is a great resource for small group discussion or personal reflection.
Martin Luther – Eric Metaxas
Since 2017 was the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, it seemed natural for many works on Luther and the reformation to be introduced. In my opinion, this is the best.
Drawing on the success of previous biographies about Christians in the public sphere (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce), Metaxas has proven to be not only a thorough and articulate historian, but a compelling author as well. No matter your degree of familiarity with church history or Luther himself, you will find this to be a worthwhile introduction to many doctrinal and methodological church distinctives we often take for granted today.
But What If We’re Wrong? – Chuck Klosterman
Truth: this book did not come out in 2017. You may think that makes its inclusion on this list null and void. However, Klosterman did release a book called X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century this year which reminded me how much I enjoyed this specific book from a previous year. Also, it’s my list, so I get to make the rules.
Chuck Klosterman is not a professing Christian. At times, his topic choice and word selection make this apparent. What Klosterman is, however, is one of the greatest pop-culture writers of our time. What makes him great is not only his contemplative writing approach, and ability to wield humor like a well-sharpened sword, but his ability to see beneath the surface of such trivial cultural tides and explore the great depths of truth beneath.
But What If We’re Wrong? is one of the most refreshing books I have ever read. Extending from the observation that historically many of an era’s most strongly held beliefs turn out to be wrong when tested by the mettle of time, Klosterman interviews some of today’s most intellectual and authoritative minds regarding a wide variety of accepted subjects and asks them simply, But What If We’re Wrong?
What are the things we accept as fact today that generations from now will look back on as folly (do you really believe in gravity)? In today’s society of stubborn objectivity and staunch hubris regarding our own intellectual triumphs, hearing someone admit there are likely things we are missing is refreshing. Klosterman’s writing is fun, engaging, and presents many cultural points of engagement where a wall of error may in truth be open to the gospel in days to come.
Steal Away Home – Matt Carter & Aaron Ivey
This is a real story about real people that isn’t real. Make sense? Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey sought to bring the historical relationship between Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century British prince of preachers, and Thomas Johnson, an American slave trying to discover meaning and faith in a new world, to light in an approachable and compelling way.
This real-life work of fiction uses letters, manuscripts, and historical accounts to meticulously weave a story that is both gut-wrenchingly honest, and filled with a hope and appreciation for the God who unites these two must unlikely of brothers. This was the most enjoyable book I read all year on a number of levels.
Reading the Bible Supernaturally – John Piper
Reading John Piper can sometimes feel like trying to do basic math in Japanese. The words and concepts are all there, but there is a complexity and gravity that causes you to proceed slowly and cautiously lest you find yourself lost and having to start over.
Reading the Bible Supernaturally is a companion piece to one of Piper’s previous offerings, A Peculiar Glory. The strength of this book as that its goal is very simple: Piper wants you to be in magisterial awe of the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures and the way they function in the life of the believer.
Piper knows this is a lofty pursuit. He spends much of the book continually retelling what he has just said and explaining what he is going to say next. He leads easily and practically by the hand, but still after reading the book, one finds that only a slice has been digested. That’s okay. What this book will help you do is interact with the Scriptures (and the God who gave them) on a new level and with deeper joy.
ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set – Crossway Publishers
Nothing has had a greater impact on my personal appreciation for the Scriptures this past year than reading them in a reader’s Bible. Often, trying to approach the words of Scripture surrounded by footnotes, cross-references, chapter markers, study notes, and other helps, can make a text seem unapproachable or even overwhelming.
Reading the Scriptures simply as they were presented – as letters, historical accounts, works of poetry – gives the reader an appreciation not only for the words themselves, but for the story of the gospel and the God who has gifted us so abundantly with His Word.
Study notes and resources are incredibly valuable. But I would also encourage any Bible reader to sit down with a reader’s Bible and take in the Scripture without divisions, markers, or other intrusions. Simply read the books. ESV’s 6-volume reader’s set is somewhat pricey, but well worth the investment.
The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse
Ben Sasse gives me hope for the future of America. The young senator from Nebraska not only has an impressive resume, but his Christian faith and biblical acumen provide a worldview with which many in our nation agree, yet have been unable to articulate.
Though Sasse is a politician, this is not a political book. It is not a partisan manifesto or a posturing senatorial biography. It is a cultural observation piece through the lens of reason, history, and biblical Christianity. Looking closely at education, the Millennial generation, the family, and many other indicators, Sasse puts his finger on the national pulse to expose the fact that not only is our society ill and heading in a dark direction, but optimistically offers hope in the fact that a heartbeat is still there.
Whether you are cynical about our time and nation, or just interested in alternative views of how our society could function and thrive, you will find much to appreciate about this book.
So there you have it: my top seven books of 2017. May the start of 2018 be made more fruitful by adding these and more to our bookshelves, minds, and hearts. I look forward to what 2018 will bring and with it, another installment of Ryan Smith’s Authorized and Unsolicited Best Books Compilation of the Year (RSAUBBCY™ 2018 Edition).
I enjoyed Metaxes’ look at Luther to close out the year. He writes well and makes a man most of us should know a great deal about that much more accessible. Even more helpful was the way he weaves in app the other players and actions. A thoroughly enjoyable read.