Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards

Friends who know my book-besotted line of work sometimes ask whether I actually read, cover-to-cover, all the volumes that come streaming into my office. I have to suppress a snicker, because that’s a bit like asking whether Alex Trebek knows all the answers on Jeopardy!

Still, I devoured every word of the four finalists for CT’s first-ever Beautiful Orthodoxy book award. (See the results here.) What, you might wonder, is that high-sounding coinage supposed to mean? Think of everything that makes public discourse today a nails-on-chalkboard nightmare: the screaming matches, the hair-trigger outrage, the glib snarking and self-righteous peacocking. You might call “Beautiful Orthodoxy” our shorthand for the opposite of that—for theological, political, and cultural expression that unites truthfulness and loveliness. The way the gospel does.

Plenty of people speak the truth about God and his world, but their manner is abrasive. Others use warm, artful language in the service of half-truths and falsehoods. At CT, we believe in the possibility of truth without ugliness, of beauty without moral and theological squishiness. (Don't take it from me, though. Let editor in chief Mark Galli flesh out our commitment to Beautiful Orthodoxy in this essay and this interview.)

As always, we're pumped about these yearly book awards, when we recognize Christian writers for painstaking research and trenchant analysis, for dazzling prose and arresting imagery. What a testimony to the power of beauty and orthodoxy uniting in a delicious feast. Bon appétit. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Apologetics/Evangelism

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press)

"Unlike many apologetics books, Fool’s Talk is not a series of quick-fix answers to questions most folks are no longer asking or one-size-fits-all ‘McTheories’ (Guinness’s term) to be applied to any situation. Rather, Guinness draws upon a lifetime of diverse experience to explore and invite us into the art of ‘creative persuasion.' " —Joshua Ryan Butler, pastor, author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet

(See CT's interview with Os Guinness here.)

Award of Merit

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus

Dallas Willard (HarperOne)

"Of all the apologetics books published in the past year, I would choose The Allure of Gentleness as the one I would most want my graduate students to read, digest, and deeply assimilate. It wonderfully distills the thinking of the late Christian philosopher and has the texture of Pascal’s Pensées in its wisdom and presentation. As you would expect from Willard, it’s a spiritual and apologetic feast all at once." —Craig Hazen, professor of apologetics, Biola University

Biblical Studies

Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Vol. 1–4

Craig S. Keener (Baker Academic)

"Keener is a scholar with gifts that come along once every century, and here we see them employed in full force. Words like encyclopedic, magisterial, and epic come to mind when you examine 4,000 carefully argued pages on every aspect of the Book of Acts. Nothing like this has ever been done—and it’s doubtful that anything like it will be done for a long time. Keener has a grasp of the ancient world like few scholars anywhere, but he also has a heart for the church and its mission." —Gary Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

Award of Merit

The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate

John H. Walton (IVP Academic)

"Questions of human origins and the historical Adam are of intense interest to the church and the academy, especially in light of the Human Genome Project. Here, Walton follows up on his previous work (which reads the Genesis Creation account through the lens of Ancient Near Eastern cosmology) with a focus on Adam and Eve. Reading the Creation account through ancient Israelite eyes, he provides an intriguing alternative for those who see contemporary science as moving in a direction antithetical to traditional understandings of Genesis." —Mark Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary

(CT interviewed John Walton in the March 2015 issue.)

Christian Living/Discipleship (tie)

The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts

Joe Rigney (Crossway)

"Too often, we treat delight in the beauties of nature and culture as distractions from the divine, or else consider our spiritual lives cordoned off from the rest of life—our leisure, food, clothes, relationships. Rigney invites us to enter into a more spiritually mature understanding of God’s good gifts, in order to bless God for all he gives, to mirror his generosity, and to model grace and gratitude, whether we have little or much." —Rachel Marie Stone, blogger, author of Eat with Joy

Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age

Jonathan Grant (Brazos)

"We have needed this book for a long time. The church’s response to the seemingly limitless trajectory of hypersexualization has been puny, negative, and ineffective. Even the books written to ‘celebrate sex,’ seeking to shed the image of Christians as puritanical, often reduce sex to the same terms as our culture does. Divine Sex properly widens the frame, delivering an incisive and nearly comprehensive analysis of our present state, and providing a theological map toward living fully redeemed lives, in fully redeemed bodies." —Leslie Leyland Fields, writer, author of Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers

(Our review of Divine Sex appeared in the September 2015 issue.)

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus

Zack Eswine (Crossway)

"Here is a book so gritty, liberating, godly, and honest that it was hard to put down. Drawing from Scripture, theology, and close observation of life, Eswine describes the life of ministry in a way that unshackles the minister from impossible demands—and all the dread, depression, and burnout that accompanies them. For the minister, this book is full of mercy and encouragement. For everyone else, it reminds us of a glad irony: God chooses to do imperfect ministry through imperfect persons rather than personally doing it perfectly." —Cornelius Plantinga Jr., senior research fellow at Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Award of Merit

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson (Zondervan)

"In our age, pastoral ministry is haunted by the specter of technique—the pressure to get things done. Hiestand and Wilson offer a different vision, one that attends not only to what is done, but also to the particular theology that drives our actions. Drawing upon a rich body of historical research, the authors suggest that pastoral ministry and the work of theology should not be mutually exclusive." —C. Christopher Smith, co-author of Slow Church, editor of The Englewood Review of Books

(Our review of The Pastor Theologian appeared in the July/August 2015 issue.)

Culture and the Arts

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime

Alan P. R. Gregory (Baylor University Press)

"Our culture is awash in science fiction. From post-apocalyptic young-adult blockbusters to hard sci-fi novels, the genre’s star has never burned more brightly. Science Fiction Theology demonstrates a masterful understanding of what makes it all tick. While the casual fan may find the book’s density off-putting, others will find themselves deeply edified by Gregory’s rigorous tracing of the dialogue between science fiction and Christianity. The dialogue, it turns out, is very lively, even when trafficking in distortions. The chapter on Philip K. Dick, an author criminally ignored by religious readers, is itself worth the price of admission." —David Zahl, director of Mockingbird Ministries

Award of Merit

Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman

Don W. King (Eerdmans)

"Who was Joy Davidman, and what made her the perfect match for C. S. Lewis? King’s literary biography is a fascinating portrait of a woman who deserves to be seen as more than a famous man’s wife. King traces Davidman’s emotional, political, and spiritual evolution by closely examining and evaluating her uneven but always interesting literary output. Though Lewis (naturally) has cameos, Davidman is the star: a strong woman and passionate writer whose love sonnets, especially, warrant closer examination." —Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters

Fiction

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Daniel Taylor (Slant)

" 'Something is wrong. I’m not well. The voices are back.' The first lines of this novel demanded my attention. I love how it doesn’t fit into a single genre—it’s one part mystery, one part religious and academic commentary. I was constantly guessing where the plot was headed, and I appreciated the experimental way the story unfolded. As I read, I found myself comparing the main character, Jon Mote, to Hazel Motes of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Like Hazel, Jon is both haunted and intrigued by his Christian upbringing. Both are seeking redemption, but on very different paths. Taylor took risks in telling this story, and I applaud his boldness." —Michael Morris, author of Man in the Blue Moon

Award of Merit

Still Life

Christa Parrish (Thomas Nelson)

"Parrish explores the complicated world of Ada, a young woman recently rescued from a fundamentalist cult. Ada is trying to build a life in the outside world when her world is rocked a second time by the sudden death of her new husband in a plane crash. She eventually meets Katherine, the woman who gave up her seat to Ada’s husband. Katherine is trying to piece together her own broken marriage. The characters are complex and well-drawn, and their search for community and connection in the midst of mourning keeps the plot unfolding at a brisk yet natural pace." —Hannah Notess, poet and author, managing editor of Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine

History/Biography

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

Thomas S. Kidd (Yale University Press)

"Despite its somewhat grandiose subtitle, this book offers a judicious assessment of a man who was at once a great evangelist, a tireless self-promoter, a deeply pious believer, and an advocate of slavery. The text is so clear and lively that the reader hardly notices the scholarly labor beneath the surface." —Elesha Coffman, professor of church history, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary

(See CT's interview with Thomas Kidd here.)

Award of Merit

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis

Abigail Santamaria (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

"The narrative is crisp, and the subject matter is original and captivating. Santamaria examines Joy Davidman through a lens simultaneously critical and tender. Rather than presenting Lewis and his wife as saints, she depicts them as God’s sinful patients. Out of the many books published on Lewis, his contemporaries, and his writings in recent years, this one most thoroughly grabbed my attention." —John G. Turner, professor of religious studies, George Mason University

Missions/The Global Church

Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship

David W. Shenk (Herald Press)

"At a time when relations between Christians and Muslims are more complex than ever, Shenk has given us a wonderfully thoughtful account of how to build real relationships. Without giving formulas or reducing Muslims to a single type, Shenk draws on his vast experience in many parts of the world to provide an encouraging way forward for anyone seeking to share the hope of the gospel with their Muslim neighbors." —Brian Howell, professor of anthropology, Wheaton College

Award of Merit

From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance

Brian Fikkert and Russell Mask (Zondervan)

"Confronted with global poverty and the corresponding suffering, the North American church can fall prey to a pair of mistaken approaches: retreating from a seemingly impossible task, or responding with impulsive but misapplied generosity. This book offers a way forward that can serve to build long-term solutions." —Paul Borthwick, professor of missions at Gordon College

Politics and Public Life

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel

Russell Moore (B&H)

"Conservative Christianity is at a pivotal moment. After decades of tremendous political power buttressed in a society that agreed with most of its convictions, that power is slipping, or at least shifting. And a younger generation of evangelicals is skeptical of the church’s involvement in politics. Moore’s hopeful response is not bitter or frantic, but measured and confident. He explores how we can be a ‘prophetic minority,’ calling for human dignity, religious liberty, and stable families with ‘convictional kindness.’ We need this book. I only wish we had had it 20 years ago." —O. Alan Noble, editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture

(Sarah Pulliam Bailey profiled Russell Moore in the September 2015 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

Free to Serve: Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations

Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley W. Carlson-Thies (Brazos)

"Monsma and Carlson-Thies speak to the most pressing crisis in US politics. With regard to same-sex marriage and many other contested issues, religious liberty is on a collision course with prevailing moral and legal sensibilities, posing immediate dangers to Christian institutions. The authors address the problem with well-calibrated expertise. Religious liberty desperately needs defending as a matter of public policy, and Free to Serve shows how it’s done." —Hunter Baker, university fellow at Union University, author of The End of Secularism

(CT interviewed Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies in the October 2015 issue.)

Spiritual Formation

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God

Lauren Winner (HarperOne)

"Wearing God is a provocative, smart, and well-written book, drawn from a deep well of astute biblical reflection and a host of ancillary sources. It enriches our theological imagination by calling our attention to neglected images of God in the Scripture: God as clothing and fire, God as the woman who labors and the one who laughs. Winner concedes the limits of human language, which can only 'gesture' at the reality of God, who is not always as we expect to find him. Most important, she challenges the cowardly dodge of abstracting God. As proposition, he is tame. But as the grunting, panting woman of Isaiah’s prophecy and intoxicating libation, he is terribly, beautifully, wonderfully wild." —Jen Pollock Michel, author of Teach Us to Want (CT’s 2015 Book of the Year)

(Our review of Wearing God appeared in the July/August 2015 issue.)

Award of Merit

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith

Seth Haines (Zondervan)

"Coming Clean is a powerful story of a man whose son was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Instead of turning to God for solace, Haines turned to alcohol to numb the pain—and turned his anger at God. Yet, in coming clean from alcohol abuse, Haines also comes clean about doubts and fears—and their roots in some malformed spiritual experiences among well-meaning believers. Haines’s humility and honesty are disarming. And the fact that alcohol became his idol is a timely warning about abusing God’s good gifts through an inordinate love of them." —Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions, Union University

Theology/Ethics

Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God

John F. Kilner (Eerdmans)

"Carefully holding the doctrine of imago Dei to its foundations in Scripture, Kilner painstakingly documents a host of unwarranted extrapolations that theologians and preachers have let themselves construct. What’s left after his thorough work of demolition? Plenty. The way has been cleared for the doctrine of the image of God to help guide our thinking about human nature." —Fred Sanders, professor, Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University

Award of Merit

Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions

Daniel Strange (Zondervan)

"Strange has produced a courageous and robust treatment on how evangelicals should relate to other religions. He stirs readers to think theologically about world faiths, with a view toward reclaiming the field of 'religious studies' and finding ways to wisely and lovingly share the Good News with those who live in darkness." —Michael Bird, lecturer in theology, Ridley College (Australia)

Her.meneutics

Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan)

"For all the progress we’ve made in valuing women, in our society and our churches, a portion of the population still suffers silently: men. Whether they are falling victim to unrealistic stereotypes of masculinity, suffering from a ‘father wound,’ or feeling marginalized by the riptides of culture, men need the loving guidance and support of God’s people. Without a doubt, Malestrom will encourage men and women alike to value and promote a healthy, biblical view of manhood." —Jamie A. Hughes, managing editor of In Touch Magazine

(Carolyn Custis James wrote about "The Rise of Women and the Manhood Crisis" for Her.meneutics.)

Award of Merit

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

"Searching for Sunday is both an ode to the broken church and an invitation to all who are broken (that is, everyone) to come on in. Evans manages a graceful balance, noting the way churches can hurt, while speaking hope about the way churches can heal. She walks readers through stories centered on the sacraments while weaving in her own story of big spiritual questions, confusion, loss, and great hopes for Christian community." —Rachel Pieh Jones, blogger, development worker in Northeast Africa

(CT managing editor Katelyn Beaty wrote about Rachel Held Evans's return to church here.)

(Don't miss CT's Beautiful Orthodoxy book awards, and an excerpt from the Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year.)

December
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Christianity Today
Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards