Not all the following were written or published in 2009, but are some of the best books that I got around to reading this past year. Several of these were listened to as audio books, others as Kindle downloads, but all are well worth the time and effort.
Most Helpful: I can't say enough about John Eldredge's Walking With God. The Lord brought this book into my life at the precise moment I was needing to read its content. If I was forced to choose just one book to recommend that everyone read, this would be the one.
Most Challenging: The Starfish Manifesto by Wolfgang Simson gets my vote for the most stretching and important reads of 2009. Nearly every page of my Kindle copy is highlighted with thoughts and ideas that need further reflection. Since my previous post was a review of the book, I won't say anymore about it here, but would encourage you to read what I have written below for some of the reasons why I think this is one of the most important books of the year.
Most thought-provoking: A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. The sub-title sums up what this intriguing book is all about: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. A lot to chew on and think about.
Most Amazing Read: There's A Sheep in My Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement, by Brian Hogan. My wife and I met the author back in October at the Antioch Gathering, and heard a summary of the book around the breakfast table one morning. One of the first things we did when we got back home was download the Kindle version of this incredibly uplifting story. You will laugh, cry, and be grossed out all within a single sitting. Do these things really happen? They do on the mission field! Be sure and read my wife's blog review of the book here. If you are even slightly interested in CPM, church planting, cross-cultural missionary life, this is one book you will have to put on your list for 2010!
Best Fictional Novel: World Without End by Ken Follett. I downloaded the audio version and listened to all 45-hours while walking in the mornings over a span of several weeks. The book could easily have been edited down to half of what it actually is and not lost its appeal. However, I enjoyed every minute of the fascinating lives of the characters in this Middle Ages saga taking place in England. My only regret about "World Without End" is when it finally did end!
Best Story: Right up there with Ken Follett is my other favorite story teller, Jeffrey Archer. His Prisoner at Birth is a modern version of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. I really enjoyed this well written and crafted tale, and can't imagine anyone not liking this great story.
Best Contemporary Thinking on Leadership: Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, by Seth Godin. While a secular business-type book, the applications and implications are manifold for anyone in leadership. Seth is one guy who definitely thinks "out of the box" and challenges the way most things are seen and done in today's world. This was an eye-opening book on many levels and turned me into a daily reader of Seth's blog.
Best Book On Simple/House/Organic Church: The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small is the New Big for Today's Church, by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna. This is a practical and excellent addition to the growing number of really fine house/simple church books coming off the presses. For more on this title, read my blog review of the book here.
Most Prophetic: Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, by Rob Bell. Much like Simson's "The Starfish Manifesto", Bell calls into question "things as they really are" and "shining the light of Kingdom truth on where we are headed as a nation." As one commenter puts it, "this book will challenge you to reflect on your own faith and ask yourself hard questions about your day to day opinions" of things and what our response should be as Followers of Christ.
Most Inspiring: I found Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations...One School at a Time to be a most insightful book. If you have ever doubted whether ordinary people can really make a difference in today's world, Greg Mortenson's story is living proof. While there is very little spoken in the book about religion or faith, there is more Christianity within its pages than most follower's of Christ even bother to think about, let alone live. If I had my way, I would make this obligatory reading for all missionaries and church planters.
Best Biography: Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility, by Charles Swindoll. Using available Scriptural passages and weaving them into the times, places, cultures and peoples of the day, Swindoll really brings Elijah's story to life. This is the first of Swindoll's "Great Lives" series that I have read. I am now eager to tackle some of the others like Job, Joseph, Paul, Moses, and Esther.
Most Moving: A powerful and magnificently well-written follow up to "The Kite Runner" is Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. A sad, but moving story about the hardships of women in Afghanistan. Both of Hosseini's books open up the rich history and culture of the Afghan people. However, they are not easy reads. The author does not spare us from the horror and tragedy lived by a people we know so little about in the West. Reading Hosseini reminds me of Bob Pierce's words, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” The book easily rates 5-stars, but beware--it will break your heart.
Best Classic Literature: With the global tendency to move towards socialism, George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984" are both worth rereading. Do we really want to keep moving in these directions? Have we learned nothing from history? If you have any lingering doubts, go ahead and pick up either one of these classics.
Most shocking: The book everybody is reading, but nobody admits! Quite simply, this is an embarrassing book. It is about the hard-to-believe, insider experiences of Wade Burleson and what he learned about Hardball Religion: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism. If the stories and allegations in this book are true, why include it on my 2009 favorites? The subject matter is certainly not even close to being in the same league as the other titles above. The reason I think it is an important book, and should be widely read, is that fundamentalism of the kind outlined in this book needs to be exposed, confronted, and dealt with. If this kind of activity continues unchecked within the SBC, it will ultimately lead to Baptists being a small, insignificant body of believers, and minor players in the global missionary movement. It is precisely for the reasons so vividly described in "Hardball Religion", that books like "Starfish Manifesto," "Jesus Wants to Save Christians," "1984," "Animal Farm," "A Thousand Splendid Suns," "Tribes," "Walking With God," "There's a Sheep in my Bathtub," and "A Generous Orthodoxy" are must read books. Each one of these titles refutes in myriad ways why we must resist hardball religion and the fury of fundamentalism.
Have you read any of the above? What was your take on them? If your favorite 2009 read isn't on my list, please share in the COMMENTS what you found worthwhile reading. I still have several good books on my shelf and in our Kindle that I simply haven't gotten around to yet. I guess they'll have to show up on the 2010 favorites list!