Every December, I select the ten books that I most enjoyed reading during the year. I am not claiming these are the most important books of 2014 (since many weren’t even published this year). Instead, I choose ten books (and an honorable mention) based primarily on how much I enjoyed reading them. (See last year’s list, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.)
A work of philosophy and history that opens a window on the meaning of secularity and its significance for how we live. I don’t know how I would have had the stamina to persevere through Taylor’s volume if not for a companion book: How (Not) To Be Secular by James K. A. Smith. The companion volume does more than summarize Taylor’s work; Smith adds to it, dissents from it, and explores its relevance for the church today. (Click here to read my interview with Smith as well as several reflective posts on Taylor’s work.)
2. IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE
The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
by Hampton Sides
Tells the story of explorer, George Washington De Long’s attempt to navigate through a wall of ice in hopes of discovering the open polar sea at the top of the world. The journey is told with attention to the details left by surviving crew members, the diaries of De Long, and the scientific theories at their disposal at the time. “Grand” and “terrible” are great adjectives for this voyage. Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year. (See more of my review.)
3. JESUS CONTINUED
Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You
by J. D. Greear
This is a book that challenged and convicted me – and ultimately led me to repentance for the many times I have overestimated my own ability and vision and underestimated the magnitude of what God can do through us when we yield to the Holy Spirit. I’m currently co-writing a curriculum with J. D. on the same topic, a task which has only deepened my dependence on and love for the Spirit of God.
This book describes the missional identity of the church by tracing the role God’s people are called to play in the biblical story. Using both the Old and New Testaments to provide context for the church’s missional identity, Goheen helps us see the integral connections between God’s people and God’s mission.
Chesterton often turned things upside down so his readers could then see them right side up. He made a winsome case for Christianity by poking holes in the assumptions of his opponents. It’s not by force of will, but force of wit that he startles you and makes you think. This collection of essays is a good introduction to his thought. Here are four reasons you should be reading Chesterton.
Written by Pixar’s co-founder, Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. is fascinating in its portrayal of Pixar’s history of successes and failures, and insightful in its boiling down of Pixar experience into transferable principles.From the book, here are 18 lessons we can learn from the culture of Pixar.
Kevin DeYoung’s new book is written to strengthen our confidence in the truthfulness, clarity, and goodness of God’s written Word to us. He also wants us to delight in God’s Word and desire it. “Psalm 119 is a love poem, not a checklist,” he writes. Most helpful in contemporary debates is the chapter on the clarity of God’s Word – a gentle rebuttal of the idea that because there are various interpretations of Scripture no one has sufficient grounds to know whether an interpretation is right or wrong. (See more of my review.)
8. THE BEATLES
by Bob Spitz
This is a story of the spectacular and the sad, talent and tragedy. In one band, in one decade, you see the conflation of hedonistic pursuit (through sex and drugs), rebellion against societal norms (marriage and divorce), self-righteous pretentiousness (love-ins, meditation, and pacifism), and consumerism. All the while, the musical backdrop to this sordid affair is perhaps the most brilliant canon of pop, rock, and folk music that Western culture has seen. (See full review.)
I work through a Sermon on the Mount commentary every year. (Last year’s was John Stott’s, and 2012 was Dale Allison’s.) Scot’s treatment is up there with Stott for me. This commentary is a nice blend of history, exposition, and praxis. Scot’s method of guiding you through the Sermon is to let the force of Jesus’ kingdom agenda hit you squarely between the eyes. Even when I disagreed with some of his interpretive choices or points of application, I was challenged and moved by the words of Jesus as explained by Scot.
10. THE RIGHTEOUS MIND
Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt’s book provides a crash course in the psychology of human morality. Haidt believes human nature is not just intrinsically moral, but also “moralistic, critical, and judgmental”. In other words, “an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition”.
NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF
by Julian Barnes
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” With that line, Julian Barnes launches a book of reflections on life, religion, and morality as the shadow of death slowly closes in. Barnes’ book perfectly captures the “cross-pressure” (in Charles Taylor’s words) of being an unbeliever in a secular age. Barnes is haunted by the transcendence he has dismissed, nostalgic for the God he does not believe exists. (See more of my review.)