My 10 Favorite Reads of 2017
Brett McCracken | DEC 30, 2017 | 10 MIN READ
Become a better reader. That’s the first piece of advice I give when people ask me how to become a better writer. But it’s also advice that could well apply to anyone, aspiring writers or otherwise. Reading well helps us to think well, and ultimately to live well.
There are a lot of bad things to read these days — news headlines, social media opinions, Buzzfeed lists, for example — but there are also a lot of good things to read. Too many in fact. My nightstand pile of books is always taller than it should be, and my Amazon wishlist always longer than my budget allows.
That’s why it’s helpful to have recommendations. And so here are a few of mine. First, a list of my favorite books that were released in 2017. Then, a list of my favorite older books that I read for the first time this year.
Favorite Books Released in 2017
1) The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin
Though its title is perhaps less direct than it could be, this is a must-read book about how Christians should understand and steward power and weakness in the kingdom of God. At a time when many Christians seem willing to compromise principles for the sake of holding on to power, Strobel and Goggin’s book offers a timely, deeply countercultural vision for living “last is first,” cross-shaped, downwardly mobile lives. Featuring wise insights from an assortment of elder Christian sages (J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, and Eugene Peterson), this is a beautiful and important book for any of us (most of us) who are tempted by the allures of power and influence.
Few books by Christian authors made a bigger publicity splash this year, and provoked as many opinions, as Dreher’s The Benedict Option. Some called it alarmist bluster. Others called it a prophetic jeremiad. Many, many people had strong opinions about the book without ever reading it. From my perspective, Dreher’s work is prophetic and provocative in the best senses. Does he overstate things in places? Sure. But you can’t leave this book feeling settled about the status quo or at ease about the direction our culture is headed. You don’t have to agree with all of Dreher’s points to glean wisdom from his overarching, sober observation — which has only been proven more urgent as 2017 has progressed — that there is a serious crisis of identity and formation facing American evangelicalism.
3) Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality by Todd Wilson
This is a relatively short (192 pages), theologically rich, but eminently readable resource for understanding just what it is that defines a biblical sexual ethic. Wilson clearly and compellingly presents the “mere Christian” beliefs about sexuality — those things that, until just a few decades ago, nearly all Christians in history assumed. At a time of great cultural confusion regarding issues of gender and sexuality, Wilson offers a needed reminder that God’s design is beautiful and for our flourishing. We need more books like this, which promote the beautiful vocation of gender and sexuality as God made it, through which we express our creaturely calling as image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:27).
4) Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings by Josh Larsen
This is one of the best books on film and theology I’ve ever read (here’s my review for TGC). By conceiving and engaging with movies as “prayerful gestures received by God,” Larsen guides the reader in a study that is itself a reverent, prayerful gesture. Packed with insights into how both the content and the forms of films can mirror prayer, Movies are Prayers is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt the pangs of transcendence in a movie theater. Yet this is a book as much about prayer as it is about pop culture. Readers will gain not only new language to understand movies, but an enlivened paradigm for understanding prayer. Larsen’s book raises the bar for future contributions to the “theology and pop culture” conversation.
5) Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor by The Gospel Coalition
If you’ve read Charles Taylor’s 900-page tome, A Secular Age, or even if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend Our Secular Age as a companion piece for understanding Taylor’s important insights into today’s spiritual landscape. This edited volume, published by The Gospel Coalition, contains 13 chapter from contributors like Collin Hansen, Michael Horton, Derek Rishmawy, Jen Pollock Michel, Mike Cosper, and myself. Covering everything from politics and religious liberty to liturgy, preaching, and even Kanye West, Our Secular Age is an insightful guide for those — particularly pastors and other ministry leaders — who are trying to more effectively connect the gospel to hearts and minds being formed by secularism.
Five others I loved
Favorite Older Books I Read in 2017
1) Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
This is the best book on sin I’ve ever read. Plantinga offers a rich, profound but approachable overview of the theology of sin and evil. What is sin? Why do we sin? How does sin disrupt shalom? What are the personal and societal implications of sin? They questions and more are given a beautiful, sobering, thought-provoking treatment in this theological classic.
2) The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
If you’re interested in becoming more familiar with philosophy and at least semi-conversant of the key contributions of different philosophers and schools of thought, The Consolations of Philosophy is a great resource. It’s also a very fun read. Alain de Botton is a fantastic writer, and as his whimsical tour of the lives and thoughts of philosophers (like Socrates, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Epicurus, and Montaigne) comes complete with photos and illustrations!
3) On the Incarnation by Athanasius
In keeping with my wisdom pyramid model for sanity in an over-stimulated world, I’ve tried to read a lot more old books and “great books” in 2017. This 4th-century classic was one I particularly enjoyed. This version (in the excellent “Popular Patristics” series) features a phenomenal introduction by C.S. Lewis, who said of Athanasius’s work: “Only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with classical simplicity.”
4) Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer
Schaeffer was ahead of his time when he published this short reflection on theology and ecology in 1970, but it remains one of the best (and sadly one of the only) solidly evangelical books on environmental stewardship. Schaeffer was a conservative Christian who lived at a time when things like “climate change” had yet to become partisan trigger phrases, so his arguments for environmental care are refreshingly not political, but theological.
5) Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry
Sam Allberry is a celibate pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction. In this excellent and supremely helpful little book (less than 100 pages), Allberry offers a gift to the church. He goes through the relevant Scriptures, shares insights from his own journey, answers practical questions (e.g. Should Christians attend gay weddings? Can’t Christians just agree to disagree on this?), and more. As a pastor, when people ask me for a good resource on homosexuality and the Bible, this is one of the first I’ll mention.
Five others I loved
- Knowing God by J.I. Packer
- Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper
- Identity and Idolatry by Richard Lints
- The Gospel in Genesis by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful by Edmund Burke
Brett McCracken is a senior editor at The Gospel Coalition and author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, and Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Brett and his wife, Kira, live in Santa Ana, California. They belong to Southlands Church, where Brett serves as an elder. You can follow him on Twitter.