Monday, December 23, 2013

My Top Books of 2013

I've never before published a list of  "top books of the year."

I normally post the full list of books that read in a certain year, but I've never tried to narrow down my list to a select group of favorites.

But this year, I have been experienced how encouraging it can be to included in a list like this (Thanks, Challies, DeYoung, Valenti, and Welch for listing Resisting Gossip in yours!), so I decided to give it a try. It wasn't easy, but I did it.

I looked over the list of the hundredish books I've finished reading this year (most were not published in 2013), and picked the top books beside the Bible:

- That had the most personal impact on me, my thinking, my heart.
- That I was the most consistently enthusiastic about.
- That I kept coming back to again and again.
- That I couldn't help recommending to others (and recommend without reservations and significant caveats).

And here were my top 5 for 2013:

5. Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices
by Chris Brauns

This is now my "go to" book for a brief and practical explanation of the doctrines of original sin and union with Christ. Bound Together is a great introduction to those big ideas and also brings them together in eye-opening ways.

I didn't get all of my questions answered about how solidarity works (especially in tension with a healthy individuality), but I'm more convinced than ever of the truth of solidarity and more thankful than ever, as well, because "the rope of the gospel is stronger than the rope of original sin."

[Read my short review here.]

4. Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White 

No one should need convincing that, here in North America, we live in a culture that has gone insane over sex. Our day is characterized by so much confusion, so much heart-ache, so much access and addiction to unholy and unhealthy choices—Internet pornography, fornication, same-sex attraction, adultery, sexual fantasy, masturbation. Men are in the thick of this battle, and often losing. Men are isolated, pinned down under heavy crossfire, and do not know where to turn.

David White of Harvest USA has done Christian men a great service by writing Sexual Sanity for Men. The topic is sexual brokenness, the goal is holy sexuality, and the author offers gospel-centered hope. White presents himself, not just as a guide but, as a fellow-traveler on this road. He shares glimpses of his own story as both a sinner and a sufferer which lends credibility and encouragement to his message. The chief strength of Sexual Sanity for Men is how the author applies high-octane, gospel-centered theology to the tortuous problem of sexual temptation. Men need high-octane theology, and they need hope that King Jesus will help His men deal with their problem.

[Read my full review at the Biblical Counseling Coalition.]

3. Risen: 50 Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything by Steven Mathewson

Steven Mathewson has done a marvelous job of crafting 50 bite-sized meditations on the resurrection that are both theological and applicational at the same time. It's perfect for reading between Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and Holy Spirit Sunday (Pentecost).

Mathewson masterfully takes readers on a treasure hunt through the New Testament to find out how the apostles connected the doctrine of the resurrection to other points of doctrine and then to our lives.

On one level, I knew most of the things he said, but I had never thought as deeply or as interconnectedly about them on the level that Risen takes you, especially all at one time.

[Read my short review here.]

2. One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? by Dave Brunn

This book should be required reading in every seminary and the first book read when "translation wars" erupt in local churches.

Brunn makes a clear, compelling, and winsome case for a multiplicity of versions being a complementary blessing to the church and the world.

He also convincingly demonstrates that the versions who have literal ideals are not nearly as consistent at their translation philosophy as one might think--and that that is a good thing! He shows that there is more to an excellent translation than literalness, and all great translations evidence that. Our strong English translations actually have much more in common than they have differences.

[Read my short review here.]

1. A Better December: Proverbs to Brighten Christmas by Steven Estes

In this little gift-sized book, Pastor Estes has taken the wisdom of Solomon in all of its brevity and sagacity and applied it directly to the blessings and perils of the holiday season.

It is inspirational without being sentimental, warm and winsome without being sappy or fluffy. A Better December is full of deep, practical, biblical content presented in an imaginative, often wryly humorous, and engaging style.

The best thing about A Better December is how Estes brilliantly smiths his words. There aren’t that many, but each and every word is carefully chosen for maximum rhetorical effect, making it a delightful read. Estes doesn’t just teach from the Proverbs, he writes like the Proverbs–concise, precise, incisive. It’s a pleasure to read out loud, and it’s impossible to not be moved.
Sarah Bland-Halulko has generously sprinkled her whimsical hand-drawn illustrations throughout the book, adding to the magical quality of the writing.

I highly recommend A Better December for just about any Christian reader and even folks who are not yet followers of Christ. As the book progresses, there is a narrative movement from Solomon to Jesus and the gospel is clearly and beautifully presented in an unique and disarming way.

I’m so glad I read it. This December was has been much better because I did.

[Read my full review at the Biblical Counseling Coalition or my interview with Steve Estes.]


Thanks Matt!
Sarah Bland-Halulko

You're welcome, Sarah. Thanks for your excellent work! Happy new year!

So cool, Great post. I had an awesome time creating the image for the cover. Little known fact, that image was my family's Christmas card a few years back.

Thanks, Brandon! Love your website.

Happy New Year!