By Keith Simon
I love to read other people’s book recommendations so I think that it’s only fair that I share some of the best books that I read this year. The reason that I am sharing this now versus at the end of the year is because if you’re like me, you are looking for ideas for Christmas gifts.
My criteria for “best books” are relatively simple: Was it well written? Did I learn something? Have I recommended it to others?
2015 was the best year of reading for me personally that I can recall. All I mean by that is that I had the good fortune to read fantastic books. Books that might have been in my top 5 in a normal year didn’t make the list this year. Last week I shared some books that I really enjoyed but didn’t make my personal Top 10.
My Top 10 Books In 2015
10. The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech
by Kirstin Powers
The author, a self described liberal who recently became a Christian, gives countless examples of how people don’t want to debate ideas as much as they want to silence those they disagree with preventing them from even making their argument. Given what’s happening at Yale, Princeton, and Mizzou, this is an important book to read.
9. What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality
by Kevin DeYoung
We know what our Facebook friends, media, the Supreme Court, and culture at large thinks about homosexuality but do we have a firm grasp on what the Bible says? The first half of this short book lays out the biblical evidence and the second half handles common objections. I think that there are several good books on this important issue that are well worth reading, but if you are going to read one book on it, this is it.
8. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
by Rosaria Butterfield
The author’s previous book (one of my favorites in 2013) recounts her personal and unlikely story of how Jesus turned upside down the life of a leftist professor in a committed lesbian relationship. In her new book, she tackles the issues of sexual identity and transgenderism. There’s also a great chapter on how any Christian should think about spiritual growth.
7. The Road to Character
by David Brooks
Brooks, who writes regularly on the New York Times Opinion page, argues that the crisis in meaning felt by many in our culture is due to a lack of personal character. The bulk of the book consists of one chapter “mini-biographies” demonstrating how well-known people developed virtuous character and through that had a meaningful life.
6. Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ
by Tony Reinke
John Newton is the slave trader turned Christian pastor and author of the song Amazing Grace. In this book, Reinke primarily draws on Newton’s pastoral letters to show how he helped people grow spiritually with just the right mix of encouragement and conviction, warning and grace. I will reread it this year because it definitely helped me in my own walk with God.
5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander
Jim Crow laws, popular between Reconstruction and their overthrow in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, legalized racial segregation. Is it possible that the mass incarceration of black men on relatively minor drug offenses is another form of Jim Crow segregation. At times this book made political assertions without evidence, saw malicious intent that I didn’t, but it also really made me think. If you like your beliefs to be challenged by an intelligent argument, you’ll like this book.
4. The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism From al-Qa’ida to ISIS
by Michael Morell
Now a CBS analyst, Morell was the CIA’s presidential briefer for President Bush and was by his side as the country was attacked on September 11, 2001. He was also advising President Obama when bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Eventually becoming the CIA’s number 2 man, Morell explains the struggle against terrorist groups in the Middle East. Given recent events in Paris, San Bernadino, and elsewhere, this is a timely read.
3. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rouge Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkatesh
Venkatesh was a PhD student in sociology at the University of Chicago which is located near a tough part of Chicago. Naively, he wandered into a housing project where he encountered a scene that he wasn’t prepared for. Fortunately for Vanketesh, a gang leader named JT walked in at the right time saving him from at least a beating and maybe worse. The two developed a friendship that allows us to see the inside of life in a gang. Without glamorizing the crime, drugs, prostitution, etc…, he does humanize it and helps you understand why people do what they do.
2. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson and Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Cristena Cleveland
Divided by Faith is written by sociologists who share their research based on thousands of interviews with evangelical Christians and helps us to understand why black and white Christians see racial issues so differently. Disunity in Christ challenged my belief that it’s okay for black and white Christians to worship on Sunday mornings in their own churches. If you want to gain a better understanding of the racial issues that confront the American church, these two books are a great place to start.
1. Tie: America’s Pastor by Grant Wacker and The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House
Neither of these books are a biography and yet in both you’ll learn a lot about the life and ministry of Billy Graham. But if you want a traditional biography of Graham, you won’t do better than William Martin’s A Prophet With Honor.
America’s Pastor walks through Graham’s incredible impact on American culture but also the culture’s impact on him. The issues covered include race, entrepreneurship in ministry, the rise and fall of fundamentalism, the use of media by Christians, politics, and more. Wacker, a professor at Duke, is an evangelical believer with great respect for Billy Graham but never gives him a pass or resorts to hagiography.
The Preachers and the Presidents traces Graham’s relationship with every president from Truman through Clinton. Tidbits include: Truman is the only president who didn’t like him and Graham later apologized to him, while in the oval office Eisenhower asked Graham how he could be sure he’d go to heaven, Kennedy didn’t have much time for Graham but used him to consolidate his support among protestants after the election, LBJ asked him to sleep over on his last night in the White House, Graham’s lowest moments in ministry came in the context of his relationship with Nixon, …I could keep going and going.
Between last Thursday and today I’ve shared my favorite books that I read in 2015. I’d love to hear what you enjoyed reading this year.