Each year I write a short post highlighting the top ten books I read that year, plus a few honorable mentions. (I read more books than ever this year—many quite excellent—so I’ve had to bump it up to a top 12.) I do this because I want to honor those worthy of honor, and also in the hopes that some of you might see a title or two that interests you. (Those who know me well know I love to get others reading excellent books!) So without further ado, here are the twelve best books I read in 2023, in no particular order.
- Biblical Critical Theory (Christopher Watkin). As I said to my wife shortly after starting this book, I’ve rarely felt such a rush of joy reading an academic work like this. This book scratches precisely where I itch, showing how the grand story of God’s redemption makes sense of all the deepest, most pressing issues around us. It’s not short or easy (although exceedingly well-written), but I would still highly recommend.
- Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers (ed. Nick Needham). Provides a reading for each day of the year from one of twelve church fathers, men like Augustine, Athanasius, Cyril, and Gregory. A wonderful introduction to a group we (most of us) know far too little about. Very accessible, as the daily reading is only two or three paragraphs.
- The Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain (Cormac McCarthy). I’m cheating a bit here, as this is three books, but I think we can count a trilogy as a single work! Hauntingly beautiful, as McCarthy always is. Characters that will stick with you well after you finish. I know of no recent author who better captures the deep darkness (but potential for redemption) within humans than McCarthy, who passed away this year.
- Everything Sad Is Untrue (Daniel Nayeri). An incredible autobiographical story, written from the perspective of a middle-school boy (which explains some of the scatological humor in the book—although even that serves a deeper purpose). This book will make you think very differently of refugees, cross-cultural differences, and what sort of person you want to be.
- Timothy Keller (Collin Hansen). This interesting biography traces the major influences on Keller’s life and teaching, which makes it—as some have joked—more bibliography than biography. For someone like me, who has been deeply shaped by Keller, this was a wonderful look at the tributaries pouring into the Keller River. It also shaped my reading list for the rest of last year, continuing into this year.
- The Fabric of Theology (Richard Lints). Lints helps us understand how to craft a theological vision, which fits in the middle space between a statement of faith and a plan for ministry. I especially enjoyed his argument that academic theology needs to be done in conversation with the church.
- The Denial of Death (Ernest Becker). A fascinating work of psychology, showing how our fear of death shapes just about all we do. Though not from a Christian perspective, Becker’s work exposes the truth of, need for, and goodness of the gospel for a people always walking in the valley of death’s shadow. Horrified by our finitude, we’re all searching for the Infinite.
- Overcoming Sin and Temptation (John Owen, ed. Taylor and Kapic). Three short works by Owen combined (with helpful introductions) into one longer volume. Owen not only treats the depths of our sin nature, but also provides eminently practical, pastoral wisdom for how to overcome it. An absolute classic (even if he can be a bit dry at times).
- The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt). Haidt, a social psychologist, shifts paradigms in this thrilling tome. Drawing on a wealth of research, he shows how much “taste” (not reason) shapes our morality, and how that causes the divisions we see so often morally, politically, and religiously. Provides practical tips on how to overcome those differences too—much needed in today’s climate!
- The Call (Os Guinness). Guinness writes so well, and pulls together so many wonderful quotes and illustrations, that I would have enjoyed this even if I hadn’t cared for the topic. However, writing as he is about vocation—a seriously neglected subject—this book quickly became one of the highlights of my sermon research stack this year.
- On the Road with St. Augustine (James K.A. Smith). Smith is one of my favorite writers today, in large part because he combines philosophical precision and historical erudition with delightfully quirky and obscure cultural references. In this work, he invites us on a pilgrimage with Augustine to see how the gospel Augustine believed and preached addresses that elemental ache within us—and answers the biggest questions we’re asking. Deeply relevant.
- Delighting in the Trinity (Michael Reeves). This book’s title is absolutely right. This is not just dry theology, helping you understand the doctrine of one of Christianity’s deepest mysteries; this is an invitation to delight in the wondrous tri-unity of the God who is there—and how this ultimate reality explains so much of who we are and what we long for. Absolutely brilliant, while at the same time very readable.
Honorable Mentions: Preaching and Preachers (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry). All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque). Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth (Thaddeus Williams). Providence (John Piper). Hold on to Your Kids (Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld). After Virtue (Alasdair MacIntyre). A Sure Guide to Heaven (Joseph Alleine). Get a Grip (Gino Wickham). The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Lesslie Newbigin). Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell). Dominion (Tom Holland). Talking about Race (Isaac Adams). Thoughts for Young Men (J.C. Ryle).