Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards

Some of the finest books pull us deeper into familiar subjects—biographies of great statesmen, say, or fresh takes on the essentials of Christian doctrine and discipleship. Others introduce us to people, places, and ideas about which we know very little, if anything. Last year, I finally discovered Laura Hillenbrand’s epic World War II survival story, Unbroken. Going in, I’d never heard of her protagonist, the indomitable prisoner of war Louis Zamperini. Now, I won’t soon forget him.

It’s like that with our current crop of book awards, which pursue paths both old and new. One of the victory nods goes to a new study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You’ve perhaps heard a thing or two about him. And like always, we honor plenty of volumes touching on the Bible, the church, and perennial matters of faith. But hopefully, we’ll also inspire at least some readers to acquaint themselves with abolitionists Hannah More and Sarah Grimke, or the philosopher Charles Taylor (and his penetrating look at our “secular age”).

Whether you’re browsing for something old or something new (or perhaps just eager to learn CT's choice for Book of the Year), we hope you’ll find your curiosity awakened. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor for books

Apologetics/Evangelism

The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing

Jonathan K. Dodson (Zondervan)

“Dodson rescues evangelism from the formulaic and trite recitation of biblical facts, re-centers it within the grand narrative of Scripture, and refocuses our attention on the particular needs of the person who needs good news. This is a biblically faithful and contextually sensitive approach to evangelism that systematically demolishes the most common obstacles to proclaiming Jesus as Lord.” —Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project

Award of Merit

Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions

Craig L. Blomberg (Brazos Press)

“Although the title might lead one to think this is a beginner’s book, it is not. But neither is it a book only for seminary professors. It is for those who are ready to move on from the shelves full of introductory ‘case for’ books and want to see if the Bible (mainly the New Testament) can stand up to scrutiny from critical scholars. Blomberg answers the toughest challenges in an evenhanded and gracious manner.” —Craig Hazen, professor of apologetics, Biola University

Biblical Studies

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus

Michael F. Bird (Eerdmans)

“This book covers the formation of the Gospels, asking and answering questions that have occupied undergraduate and seminary students, but in fresh ways. It will be of interest to students of the New Testament as well as anyone who takes an interest in the life of Jesus and the use of the New Testament in the early church.” —Mary Veeneman, professor of theology, North Park University

Award of Merit

For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship

Daniel I. Block (Baker Academic)

“This splendid volume is the culmination of an entire career of studying worship in the Old Testament context. What generations of students have learned from Block’s teaching is now available to all: the rich mosaic of experiences in Israel (and the church) that define us as humans. He explains how worship is done with pastoral sensitivity, theological insight, and the wisdom of a man whose life reflects the virtues he describes.” —Gary Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

Christianity and Culture

How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

James K. A. Smith (Eerdmans)

“Taylor is the author of a monumental study of contemporary life called A Secular Age, which explores the widespread loss of religious sensibility in modern life. His work exposing the ideology of secularism has important implications for contemporary apologetics, evangelism, and ministry. But it’s so technical and sophisticated that it is mainly accessible to academics. Smith has offered not a CliffsNotes style simplification, but a paradigm-shifting book that creatively applies Taylor’s findings to the church and the larger society.” —Gene Edward Veith, provost, Patrick Henry College

Award of Merit

Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm

Mark Sayers (Moody Publishers)

“Like Francis Schaeffer at his best, Sayers uses cultural observations, historical lessons, and pastoral wisdom to penetrate the various myths and lies our culture believes. He gives readers a set of pictures to better understand the gospel and the unique challenges facing the church.” —Jake Meador, editor at Fare Forward

Christian Living

Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith (Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year)

Jen Pollock Michel (InterVarsity Press)

“Most of us have wanted something at some point in life. Some of us live with a deep void in our souls that never seems to be filled. How do we live with such desires? How do we respond to the emotions brought on by longing and wanting? With raw honesty and a scriptural foundation, Michel shows that our desires have a place in the journey of faith.” —Courtney Reissig, Her.meneutics writer

Award of Merit (Tie)

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

Steven Garber (InterVarsity Press)

“Many Christians struggle with envisioning what it is to be and to work in the world. Garber offers stories and wisdom that affirm the goodness and rightness of Christians pursuing callings in areas not traditionally considered ministry, but that may be missional nonetheless.” —Rachel Marie Stone, blogger, author of Eat With Joy

If Only: Letting Go of Regret

Michelle Van Loon (Beacon Hill Press)

"Don't be fooled by the book's slender frame. Wise and insightful, If Only tackles a universally recognizable subject—regret—in muscular prose that expertly balances biblical and personal stories.” —Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University, author of Fierce Convictions

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches

Peter Greer and Chris Horst (Bethany House Publishers)

“Greer and Horst identify the common—but not inevitable—tendency of Christian organizations to slowly, often imperceptibly, lose focus on the purpose and values that that first called them into existence. Writing from case studies and their own experiences in missions organizations, they not only describe the problem but also offer practical remedies.” —Bill Teague, pastor, Langhorne Presbyterian Church (Langhorne, Pennsylvania)

Award of Merit

The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community

Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen (InterVarsity Press)

“The authors explore how the limitations of staying rooted in a particular place actually provide opportunities for transformation and mission. This is counterintuitive for churches that have bought into the mobile and transient values of our culture.” —David Swanson, pastor, New Community Covenant Church (Chicago)

Fiction

Lila

Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Robinson slowly unfolds the story of Lila, a woman not quite defeated by a brutal, hardscrabble life, who discovers hope and security as the wife of an elderly pastor. Together, they wrestle with questions of the meaning of existence and the ultimate fate of humanity. Readers who loved Robinson’s earlier novel, Gilead, will discover the same breathtaking writing, beautifully painted scenes, and strong working knowledge of theology.” —Cindy Crosby, author of By Willoway Brook

Award of Merit

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd (Viking Adult)

“Based on the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke and a fictional slave girl, Handful, the novel skillfully joins fiction and history, African American resilience and Southern white hypocrisy, Charlestonian exuberance and Quaker idealism. Kidd reminds us that the foundation of social injustice is ordinary human selfishness.” —Betty Smartt Carter, author of Home Is Always the Place You Just Left

History/Biography

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Charles Marsh (Knopf)

Strange Glory is the best book in English on Bonhoeffer. It is honest about his failings (both personal and public) and forthright about his distance from modern readers. Still, Marsh’s sensitive portrayal of a clearly flawed saint doing great things for others in the name of Jesus Christ yields a rare combination of delight and moral urgency.” —Douglas Sweeney, professor of church history, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Award of Merit

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Philip Jenkins (HarperOne)

“This sweeping yet carefully researched book makes sense of a global conflict too often recalled as some intrigue about empires that we Yanks eventually barreled into and won. Jenkins persuasively argues that the Great War is better understood as a holy war in which several crusading nations competed to advance their millennial goals. The ensuing collision, and its unfathomable destruction, redrew the global map and reshaped all the major faiths involved.” —Elesha Coffman, professor of church history, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary

Missions/Global Affairs

The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity

Todd Hartch (Oxford University Press)

“This is essential background reading for understanding the history of the church in Latin America today—Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal. Hartch demonstrates a particular sensitivity to translation: how indigenous culture, theology, the gospel, and church life relate.” —Mark Gornik, director of City Seminary of New York, author of Word Made Global

Award of Merit

China, Christianity, and the Question of Culture

Yang Huilin (Baylor University Press)

“Huilin puts theology, missiology, and church history in conversation with the social sciences to clear away many of the common mischaracterizations surrounding the historical and contemporary role of the church in China.” —Judd Birdsall, fellow, Center on Faith & International Affairs

Spirituality

What’s in a Phrase? Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans)

“McEntyre sings with words. Her insights are profound, even on the most mundane subjects. The beauty of her language, combined with the depth of her insights, is breathtaking (and I don’t use that word often).” —Christopher Hall, professor of theology, Eastern University

Award of Merit

Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity

Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic)

“Smith has written a comprehensive and compelling volume on the central importance of maturing in Christian life. He prophetically challenges anemic views of Christian conversion and Christian living, ones that do not include and involve the imperative of growing into holiness.” —Arthur Boers, R. J. Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership, Tyndale Seminary

Theology/Ethics

Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine

Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Westminster John Knox Press)

“Vanhoozer re-presents and re-tools his creative theatrical model of theology and doctrine, making it more accessible to the pastor in the pulpit and the churchgoer in the pew. In making the case that doctrine is for doing, he offers a reinvigorating vision of a church called onto the stage for the purpose of displaying the dramatic glory of the triune God before the watching world.” —Derek Rishmawy, blogger, college and young-adult pastor at Trinity United Presbyterian Church (Santa Ana, California)

Award of Merit

The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology

Jeremy R. Treat (Zondervan)

“The great, central doctrine of Christianity, the Atonement, has suffered rough treatment in this century from friend and foe alike. It has been pulled apart by false dichotomies, knocked off balance by reactionary overemphasis, displaced, overworked, and buried out of sight. Treat’s calm and sagacious book exorcises a legion of interpretive errors in one smooth argument: Christ brings the kingdom through the Cross.” —Fred Sanders, professor, Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University

Her.meneutics

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

Karen Swallow Prior (Thomas Nelson)

Fierce Convictions offers a compelling portrait of a woman committed to love God with her heart, soul, mind, and strength—a woman who changed the world around her. This is not a one-dimensional hagiography of Hannah More; her struggles are included alongside her laudable accomplishments in the arts, educational reform, and the abolition of slavery in 18th-century England.” —Michelle Van Loon, Her.meneutics writer, author of If Only

Award of Merit

The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home

Carolyn McCulley with Nora Shank (B&H Books)

“This book offers a bigger picture, bigger solutions, and wider grace than the typical women-and-work-life-balance conversation. McCulley and Shank lay out a robust theology of work and an engaging historical survey before calling women in all situations to embrace ambition for God’s glory.” —Megan Hill, Her.meneutics writer

December
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