Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards

Make a list of all the blessings the Protestant Reformation has brought, and eventually—long after jotting down iconic phrases like “salvation by grace alone through faith alone”—you’ll get around to the CT Book Awards.

Books, of course, had existed long before Luther posted his 95 Theses. But there’s no denying that reading and the Reformation, with a vital assist from Gutenberg’s printing press, soared together.

“The Reformation could not have occurred as it did without print,” writes historian Andrew Pettegree in his book, Brand Luther. “Print propelled Martin Luther, a man who had published nothing in the first 30 years of his life, to instant celebrity. It was his genius to grasp an opportunity that had scarcely existed before he invented a new way to converse through books. In the process he changed Western religion and European society forever.”

Reading helped fuel the Reformation, and in turn, the Reformation helped fuel the spread of reading.

Pettegree again: “Wittenberg, a town that had no printing at all before 1500, would become a powerhouse of the new industry, trading exclusively on the fame of its celebrity professor. And Wittenberg was not an isolated case. In many medium-sized and small German towns, the Reformation galvanized an industry that had withered after the first flush of over-exuberant experimentation.”

As we mark the anniversary of the 95 Theses next year (make sure to see CT’s Reformation-themed January/February issue), our spiritual and theological debts to Luther are obvious. But it’s worth remembering, too, how Luther’s prolific pen and publishing genius helped mold evangelicals into a “people of the book,” in more ways than one.

These awards are just one small way of keeping that legacy alive. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Apologetics / Evangelism

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

Timothy Keller (Viking)

Making Sense of God is not a parade of logical evidence for God, but rather a profound reflection on the existential realities of being human. Keller asks, simply, “Is the secular view of the world capable of making sense of the things secularists themselves properly value: freedom, individuality, justice, community, rationality, personal meaning, human rights?” His answer is a convincing no. Not only does Christianity make rational sense, Keller argues, but it also does justice to the totality of human experience. His points are gracefully presented and delivered without a hint of overstatement or triumphalism.” —Gregory Koukl, founder and president, Stand to Reason

Award of Merit
Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life

Michael Rota (IVP Academic)

“Rota, a skilled analytic philosopher, provides an engaging and compelling case for taking Pascal’s wager. The precision of the points is manifest on every page. But what makes the book even more profitable is its accessible prose. Inviting, charitable, and provocative—this is the sort of book that one could heartily give to a believer, agnostic, or even an ardent atheist. A home-run for Christian apologetics.” —Chad Meister, professor of philosophy and theology, Bethel College (Indiana)

(Michael Rota wrote about Pascal’s Wager in the May 2016 issue of CT.)

Biblical Studies

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels

Richard Hays (Baylor University Press)

“Hays reveals how deeply the Old Testament shaped the Gospel writers, showing how each of them uniquely expresses the stories of Israel, Jesus, and the church. The academy often views the New Testament authors’ use of the Old as misguided at best or manipulative at worst, but Hays effectively shows how the their readings were inspired, intelligent, and imaginative. He enables us to hear four distinct voices: the veiled Jesus of Mark, the prophesied Jesus of Matthew, the promised Jesus of Luke, and the incarnate Jesus of John.” —David T. Lamb, professor of Old Testament, Biblical Theological Seminary

Award of Merit
Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate

Michelle Lee-Barnewall (Baker Academic)

“Lee-Barnewell plows new ground by emphasizing the kingdom and counter-cultural values in biblical narratives about the relationship of men and women. Clearly, she doesn’t resolve this debate, but that was never her intention. Her different perspective on various passages helps us see them in a fresh way, and that refocused vision is helpful.” —Thomas Schreiner, associate dean of the School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Read our review of Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian.)

Christian Living / Discipleship

Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas

Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPress)

“Drawing from a trip to Israel and from her family’s lives as salmon fishermen on a remote island in Alaska, Fields shows what it means to be a child of God in the world today. We get a clear picture of what Jesus was doing with his disciples, his followers, his critics, and his family in and around the Sea of Galilee. Fields helpfully intersperses her own family’s stories of adventure, risk, calm, and loss. Her command of language, allegory, and Scripture is impressive.” —Lore Ferguson Wilbert, blogger at Sayable.net

Award of Merit
Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love

Bryan Loritts (Zondervan)

“Loritts teaches essential lessons about grace and the performance-free gospel, without minimizing the important work of sanctification. He urges us to abide in Christ and remember the Good News until we reach the day when we are free from sinning.” —Trillia Newbell, author of Fear and Faith

The Church / Pastoral Leadership

How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth

Christopher J. H. Wright (Zondervan)

“Preaching from the Old Testament can intimidate the best of us. Wright’s excellent book combines a robust biblical framework with practical communication steps in an easy-to-read style. Each Old Testament genre is given ample teaching examples along with hands-on checklists that help the preacher toward faithful proclamation. Even more refreshing is the emphasis on exalting Jesus in ways that are true to the text and relevant to our culture. Seasoned pastors, seminary students, and lay leaders will all benefit from this fine work.” —Zack Eswine, director of homiletics, Covenant Seminary

Award of Merit
The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World

Sandra Maria Van Opstal (InterVarsity Press)

“In a time of great ethnic diversity—but also division—this book is sorely needed. Van Opstal provides a practical theology and missional framework for why we must rethink the corporate experience of worship. Her vision goes beyond building a diverse worship team or singing songs in an unfamiliar language. I pray every pastor and worship leader will read this book.” —Efrem Smith, president and CEO, World Impact

(Read our interview with Sandra Maria Van Opstal in the January/February 2016 issue of CT.)

Culture & The Arts

75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film

Terry Glaspey (Baker)

“The prevailing assumption is that evangelicals and art don’t really get along. Glaspey deftly undermines this idea by making the case for integrating a range of masterpieces into Christian tradition. He does this in the best way possible, not by offering conceptual reasons why Christians should care about art, but by getting down to business and revealing the work itself, piece by piece. Any book that attempts a survey of sorts, especially one covering hundreds of years and multiple genres, runs the risk of superficiality. Glaspey manages to avoid this with his concise, illuminating essays that accompany each piece.” —S. D. Kelly, essayist

Award of Merit
Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism

Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness (IVP Academic)

“Just what should Christians think of modern art? Is it void of all religious impulses and persuasions? Or is there a deeper vision often left unexplored? Rather than writing off the last century and a half of visual art as purely secular, Anderson and Dyrness meticulously detail the patterns of piety and spirituality that both influenced and empowered artists like van Gogh, Gauguin, Kandinsky, and Warhol.” —Wade Bearden, writer and film critic

Fiction

The Confessions of X

Suzanne M. Wolfe (Thomas Nelson)

“In this gripping, beautifully written historical novel, Wolfe brings the ancient city of Carthage to life, immersing readers in the experiences that shaped the theology of Augustine of Hippo. In her deftly told and well-researched story, the unnamed woman whom Augustine loved and lived with for 13 years rises from the footnotes of history to become a dynamic, fully-fleshed character. Their relationship shows us an achingly real love, heartrending self-sacrifice, and the way that beliefs are shaped by experiences in the beautiful and terrible world.” —Amy Peterson, writer and assistant director of honors programming, Taylor University

Award of Merit
The Promise of Jesse Woods

Chris Fabry (Tyndale)

“This is a well-crafted novel with sympathetic characters, gently woven themes, and evocative descriptions. As a reader I became thoroughly immersed in the world of Dogwood and the lives of Matt and his friends. Fabry is skilled at portraying the real-life faith struggles of real people, and he manages to avoid the gravitational pull toward a clichéd ending.” —Sharon Garlough Brown, author of the Sensible Shoes series

History / Biography

Kierkegaard: A Single Life

Stephen Backhouse (Zondervan)

“Kierkegaard offers an unflinching look at the general despair and anxiety that mark the human condition, and forces his readers to confront the many ultimately vacuous and unsatisfying strategies we erect to dull the pain or suppress the realities of our fate. While quality scholarship on his life and thought is plentiful, Backhouse’s book seems to stand in a class by itself. He has done what many believed impossible: taking the complex ideas and contributions of the great Danish philosopher and making them accessible to contemporary, non-academic audiences. He has also managed to demonstrate in clear and lucid prose how Kierkegaard’s otherwise shadowy life circumstances shaped his views and led him to write the major works associated with his name.” —Jay Green, professor of history, Covenant College

Award of Merit
Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama

Kenneth Woodward (Convergent)

“Woodward provides a highly readable account of the last seven decades of American religious history. Written from his perspective as a veteran national religion reporter, the book is filled with fascinating anecdotes about major religious figures and thoughtful reflections on the evolution of American belief.” —Kristin Du Mez, professor of history, Calvin College

Missions / Global Church

Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters

Evelyne Reisacher (Baker Academic)

“Perhaps understandably, much of our attention to the Muslim world—on the news, and in the church—revolves around war, terrorism, and other pervasive challenges. But Reisacher shows us the story we’re missing. From a lifetime of missionary service, she reflects on how God’s image is beautifully reflected in the Muslim men and women she’s befriended. And she calls us to share our faith not out of fear or anger, but out of joy rooted in the hope of Christ.” —Christopher Horst, vice president of development, HOPE International

Award of Merit
Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements

William Dyrness (IVP Academic)

“The word insider in the title is accurate but also misleading, because the joy of reading this book is learning more about how God acts and moves in people’s lives outside of where and how we might expect. Dyrness takes us through the Bible, theology, history, culture, and case studies to open our eyes to different ways Jesus is being followed today. As a result, our eyes are opened to God’s redemptive grace moving creatively in the world. And we’re better prepared for thoughtful missions work that participates in God’s story without imposing unnecessary cultural baggage.” —Kent Annan, author of Slow Kingdom Coming

Politics / Public Life

The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance

Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos)

The Justice Calling is a remarkable book. Part manifesto, part theology, part call to action, it should make an immediate impact on churches and communities. Neither a political jeremiad nor a surface scan of biblical texts, the book instead paints a beautiful portrait of justice and righteousness as inextricably woven into the life of a faithful Christian. It avoids the twin dangers of gospel reductionism (saving souls, not bodies) and over-realized eschatology (if we don’t do something, no one will). We see clearly how Christian faith supplies the motivation, the method, and the hope for pursuing justice, both where we are and around the world.” —Samuel James, communications specialist, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

(Read an excerpt from The Justice Calling in the January/February 2016 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit
Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis

Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Issam Smeir (Moody)

“The authors of Seeking Refuge have managed quite an achievement in clearly explaining the complexity and importance of the global refugee crisis—and showing how the church should respond. Seeking Refuge informs without being pedantic, and calls us to action without browbeating. The approach is an outstanding example of what Karl Barth supposedly said about holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. While there are many worthy causes Christians should support, Seeking Refuge persuasively argues that God is especially calling his church in this moment to love mercy and act justly for the sake of our refugee neighbors near and far.” —Micah Watson, professor of political science, Calvin College

Spiritual Formation

The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction

Adam McHugh (IVP)

“At a time when we are drowning in words—both digital and spoken—this quiet little book throws us a life preserver. The Listening Life is gentle, thoughtful, biblical, and eminently practical. It outlines a broad theology of listening alongside specific and clear practices that teach the reader to listen in a new way. Whether you are a loud lover of words or a shy lover of solitude, this book will likely convict you.” —Tish Harrison Warren, author ofLiturgy of the Ordinary

(Read our review of The Listening Life in the November 2015 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

James K. A. Smith (Brazos)

“Too many Christians pay attention only to what they think and assert—without letting their attention probe what they actually practice and love. You Are What You Love is an invitation and a guide to that deeper look. With rich wisdom and inviting grace, we are encouraged to cultivate holy and reliable rhythms of worship rooted in the rich tradition of life-giving liturgy.” —Alan Fadling, president, Unhurried Life, Inc.

(Read an excerpt from You Are What You Love in the April 2016 issue of CT.)

Theology / Ethics

Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity

Kevin Vanhoozer (Brazos)

“Vanhoozer takes on the charge that Protestantism unleashed a cacophony of biblical, theological, and ecclesial perspectives upon the church. Biblical Authority After Babel offers a deeper understanding of the intention and meaning of the Reformation solas. This book will reward its readers, not only because of Vanhoozer’s typically creative prose, but also because it offers a compelling account of biblical authority in a Protestant key.” —Vincent Bacote, professor of theology, Wheaton College

(Biblical Authority after Babel was one of two books reviewed by Fred Sanders in the November 2016 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit
Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship

John Swinton (Baylor University Press)

“Swinton challenges the notion that ‘time has become a commodity to be bought and sold rather than a gift to be received, cherished, and valued.’ On this assumption, only those who are capable of using time productively have value in society. But he demonstrates that these ideas are anything but biblical. Taken seriously, they would dictate that the unborn child with Down syndrome not only can but should be aborted. Or that people with dementia are a ‘waste of time,’ justifying euthanasia. Swinton’s love and compassion for the disabled is contagious. He casts a Christian vision of time in which every person has a real, unique, and valuable identity.” —Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine

CT Women

Ruined: A Memoir

Ruth Everhart (Tyndale)

“This book is gripping from the outset. Everhart is talented, courageous, and engaging. She and I may disagree on some fundamental theological issues—reformed theology and complementarianism—but I benefitted immensely from reading her memoir. It’s not only a story about the horrific sexual assault she endured, but also a story about how her conservative theology failed to help her grapple with why God allowed it. Readers like me can learn a lot about how to teach and live our theology well.” —Bethany Jenkins, writer and editor, The Gospel Coalition

Award of Merit
Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny

Christine Caine (Zondervan)

“Thanks to writers like Brené Brown, the problem of ‘shame’ is back in the American consciousness in a big way. Caine engages that conversation in Unashamed, offering some earnest counsel to Christian women. Reading the book feels like sitting next to the author as she gives gentle but deliberate advice about areas of your life where you might be letting shame overtake you.” —Jess Archer, author of Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billy Graham

(Read Tish Harrison Warren’s piece on three recent books titled Unashamed.)

December
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Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards