Since everybody seems to be putting up lists of the “best” of 2011, I thought I would hopelessly crumble to peer-preasure and produce one of my own. This is the top 10 non-fiction books of 2011 (in no particular order)
1. The Four: A Survey of the Gospels (Peter J. Leithart)
Simply a fabulous book by a great theologian in a highly readable, up-to-date and insightful whirlwind of a survey of the gospels. He destroys the Q-document theory, shows that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written in the order they appear in our Bibles, properly places the New Testament in its historical context, tells the story of the Old Testament through the “Intertestemental period” to the time of Jesus, and covers the major thematic elements in each gospel. His discussion of lust (porneia) in Matthew was phenomenal, as was his exposition of the “road to Emmaus” passage in Luke 24 (the disciples go through chatting, an inductive bible study, and speak to Jesus without seeing Him, but when they participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, their eyes are finally opened).
2. The Thank-You Economy (Gary Vaynerchuk)
Despite the “rah-rah” prose, this was a marvelous book on some of the ways in which social media and the sharing economy has transformed our world of economics, as well as how it must change in the future to remain viable. The Ayn Rand approach to markets – emphasizing efficiency and acquisition above human health, well-being and sharing – must become a thing of the past. A great, inspiring vision of a “compassionate” economy that is better for everyone because it does not treat human beings as consumable items to be crammed into “the system” and spat out when they are no longer useful.
3. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Wesley Hill)
This was a game-changer of a book on homosexuality for me. Here was a young man who affirms the Bible’s position on homosexuality but who also confesses to having a homosexual orientation he wrestles with daily. He asks the vital question: what is my place in the Church as a broken person in need of healing? Most conservative churches would simply reject him out-of-hand. The book finally put a face on homosexuality for me, allows you to see through their eyes, see into their struggles and fears. Vital reading for any and all Christians today.
4. Religious No More: Building Communities of Grace and Freedom (Mark D. Baker)
A phenomenal book on the invisible legalism to be found in many American churches, using Honduras as an example (Honduran evangelicalism was brought to them by American missionaries) and discussing the ways in which churches can fight the corrosive cancer of legalism. Having escaped from one such church, I found the book particularly cathartic and helpful.
5. The Radical Reformission (Mark Driscoll)
This book effectively summarized my own thoughts on how the Church should deal with culture. Really, really great, and written in Driscoll’s trademark style.
6. The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church From Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies (David Fitch)
As the lengthy subtitle says, this book is devoted to exposing the problems with many of the sacred cows and invisible idols of modern Western culture. The truly amazing thing about the book is that Fitch intentionally takes a postmodern stance on these things, but in so doing essentially takes the ancient, historical Church’s position on many of these things. He thinks he is presenting something new, but in reality is reclaiming something that has long been lost. A great book.
7. Signed, Sealed and Delivered: A Study of Holy Baptism (Ray Sutton)
The best study on baptism to have been written in many years, and certainly the best companion to Doug Wilson’s brilliant To A Thousand Generations. Sutton discusses the major issues in a warm, conversational tone that nonetheless fully communicates the doctrine itself. The book richly participates in the historical Church’s teachings on the subject of baptism. The real highlight of the book is the three chapters in the middle on the subject of baptismal regeneration, approaching the subject from a Biblical, theological and historical slant. Comprehensive without being overwhelming.
8. Against the Protestant Gnostics (Philip Lee)
The central thesis of this classic is that modern Protestantism has been infected (for hundreds of years) with Gnosticism, the mindset that the creation and physical things are “evil” or “unclean” and forced into opposition to the “spiritual.” He tackles some of the major areas in which the Protestant church reveals Gnostic tendencies, ranging from food to a sneering degradation of the Church itself as the body of Christ to an over-reliance on the “invisible hand” (aka Gnostic hand) of the market to solve our problems rather than striving to help others ourselves. A convicting and startling book that ought to be more widely read.
9. Migrations of the Holy: God, State and the Political Meaning of the Church (William Cavanaugh)
A collection of related essays on the rise of the modern state and how it compromises and destroys the political dimension of the Church as the center of social organization on earth. Cavanaugh is a profound thinker and this is one of the best books on the subject. He argues that our common understanding that society gives rise to government is a “foundational myth” of Western culture and that the modern state in fact invented modern society and thus organized society to revolve around the state, which makes it a rival god and organization; the state presents itself as a rival of Jesus as King of Kings, and rival to the Church as the organization around which society is organized.
10. The Violence of Love (Oscar Romero)
Romero was a devout Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was martyred in 1980 by an assassin’s bullet. This book is a collection of his statements, quotes, and transcriptions of some of his sermons. Many dismiss Romero as a “liberation theologian,” but he never identified with the movement, and in reading this book it is clear he was uninterested in revolutionary Marxist politics, warning his parishoners from participating in liberation movements that do not first deal with the brokenness and sin in the heart of man himself. All other kinds of liberation are a waste of time if that is not our primary concern. Great (and convicting) messages about the poor and oppressed and the voiceless in our societies and world today.