1. Houses that Change the World by Wolfgang Simson.
This book probably had the most impact on me this year. It was my little red pill of Matrix lore. For some reason, this was the catalyst that catapulted me into new paths of exploration, including the emerging church movement and rethinking how we do church. The strength of the book (for me at least) is in the first half, where Simson explores early church history and practice. What I appreciated most about the book is how he simply articulates thoughts and observations I’d been having about the state of the current way we do church.
2. Evangelism without the Additives (formally aka Lost) by Jim Henderson.
At the end of the summer, I walked into the office of a friend of ours who is a minister and told him that I was done with evangelism. I was sick of the way evangelism in popular church culture treated people as targets and portrayed the process (even “relationship evangelism”) as notching up converts. Our friend handed me this book and I almost wept with relief as I read through it. Henderson gets at the heart of evangelism: you love people. Really love them. No strings attached. I would take Henderson’s book one step further and say loving people defines not only evangelism but also discipleship—it is one of the two things at the heart of following Jesus (the other being loving God). When you think of it that way, the line between evangelism and discipleship is very thin, if it exists at all. Anyway, a wonderfully releasing book in evangelical culture.
3. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner.
A memoir by a young woman who converted from Judaism to Christianity. It is a fresh look at being a Christian and church culture from someone who didn’t grow up in it. The book is also fresh in Winner’s honesty and willingness to be open about her failures and struggles as well as her insights and revelations. And I loved how Judaism informed and enriched her walk with Jesus. This is a delightful and insightful read which affirmed some of my own struggles as well as encouraged me in my journey with Jesus.
4. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.
Another memoir-reflection type book, this one by the guy who wrote Blue Like Jazz. Miller is not such the newcomer to faith and Christianity that Winner was and writes with an eye of one who’s been around awhile. He sharply gets to the pitfalls and fallacies of religion and digs out the heart of faith and Jesus and walking with God in the real world. I loved his pieces on formulas and communion especially. A great read.
5. The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill.
An Anabaptist classic I somehow missed in my 41 years of meandering through the Anabaptist world, ack. Considered a seminal work in New Testament and Kingdom genre, Kraybill does a wonderful job of digging out Jesus’ teaching in historical and cultural context and then bringing them effectively and appropriately to our time today. It’s an easy read (Kraybill writes in easy to understand language) and thought provoking. See my full review here.
As a kind of bonus best read, I spent a great deal of time in the Gospel of Mark and Romans this year. I love Eugene Peterson’s Message, which brought to life both of these books. I also spent some time in Doug Moo’s Romans: The NIV Application Commentary; Moo has some great insights and is an easy read.
I must admit that Mark is now my favorite Gospel. For some reason I am enamored with his voice, how he begins by rooting Jesus simply yet deeply in prophetic history, writes simply and justly about him. Perhaps because of his pared down, almost Hemingway-esque style, when he does include details, they exploded into vivid images that captured my imagination--the green grass the people sat on during one of those miraculous feedings (Mark 5:39) and the blind man seeing people walking around like trees (Mark 8:24) are my favorites.
Coming soon, my short list of favorite fiction books read in 2006. [Editor's note added: See Part 2 (with favorite fiction) here]
(Images: Amazon UK)